TOKYO -- Kim Jong Il, the son of North Korea's former leader, appeared in public yesterday for the first time in nearly three months, partly allaying suspicions that he is ill and raising expectations that he will soon complete the process of formally succeeding his father, who died in July.
Mr. Kim appeared yesterday afternoon in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, at a ceremony to mark the end of the 100-day mourning period for his father, Kim Il Sung.
North Korea released television pictures showing Mr. Kim, flanked by other officials, standing on a balcony overlooking a plaza filled with thousands of people. He stood nearly motionless and did not speak.
Although Mr. Kim has been presumed to be North Korea's new leader, he had not been seen in public since his father's funeral on July 20. Nor has he assumed two high positions held by Kim Il Sung -- president of the country and general secretary of the Workers Party, North Korea's Communist Party.
Some North Korea watchers interpreted these signs as indicating that the 52-year-old Mr. Kim was either involved in a power struggle or was ill. More questions were raised when Mr. Kim failed to appear at a wreath-laying ceremony for his father yesterday morning.
But his appearance in the afternoon, and his looking somewhat healthier than he did in July, lend support to the theory that Mr. Kim was merely trying to show that he is a dutiful son by observing the traditional mourning period.
"At least on the surface, it seems there is no problem" with Mr. Kim's succession, Yu Suk Ryul, head of North Korean studies at South Korea's Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, said yesterday night.
Some analysts now expect that Mr. Kim will be named to at least one of the two top national posts fairly soon. Other experts
cautioned that too much meaning should not be placed on yesterday's events.
"It will calm some of the wild speculation about his personal health," said Yang Sung Chul, professor of political science at Kyunghee University in Seoul. But, he added: "It's too early to suggest that he's in firm control."
North Korea's government-run news agency said that Mr. Kim appeared at yesterday's ceremony in his capacity as chairman of the National Defense Committee and supreme commander of the army. Those are titles he has long held.
The lack of a formal head of state has raised some questions about who is guiding Pyongyang's negotiations with Washington over North Korea's nuclear program. But those questions have not been enough to keep the talks from proceeding.