North Korea said its new, young leader Kim Jong-un is married, announcing it for the first time in a brief and routine state TV report Wednesday evening that ends weeks of speculation about a beautiful woman who accompanied him to recent public events.
Kim toured an amusement park with his "wife, comrade Ri Sol Ju" on Tuesday, while a crowd cheered for the leader, the speaker said without giving any more details about Ri, including how long they had been married.
The couple smiled broadly at each other as they walked through Rungna People's Pleasure Ground, at one point watching a dolphin show. Kim also smiled and leaned slightly toward her as the two gazed ahead in the same direction. In another scene, Ri quietly looked down at her husband as Kim sat on a bench and spoke with officials.
Seven months after inheriting the country from his father, Kim Jong-il, the 20-something leader has been shown in the media several times with the young woman, including at a concert where Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters appeared and at tours of various North Korean sites.
While the woman hasn't been identified until now, media and analysts in South Korea were quick to guess that she was his wife.
"Kim Jong Un is breaking with his father's secrecy-shrouded leadership," said Lim Eul-chul, a North Korea expert at South Korea's Kyungnam University. "The revelation of his wife is a sign that Kim wants to show a more open leadership."
A 'more Western-style' leadership
Ahn Chan-il, a political scientist at the World Institute for North Korea Studies in South Korea, said the revelation of Kim's wife suggests the North Korean leader is inching toward a "more Western-style" leadership. He said it also leads ordinary North Koreans to feel their new ruler is not someone eccentric or far from social norms.
Kim's public appearances with the woman are a striking change from his father's style. Kim Jong-il's 17-year rule was known for its secrecy. His companions and his children weren't mentioned by state media, including Kim Jong-un, who was virtually unknown before his formal introduction to the world in late 2010.
The new leader's style is considered more similar to his grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, who built homes, parks and schools and was often shown alongside his wife, Kim Jong Suk, and with children in his arms.
The speculation about Kim Jong-un's private life has coincided with high tension on the Korean Peninsula following a North Korean long-range rocket launch in April and repeated threats by Pyongyang to attack the South.