Page last updated at 09:49 GMT, Tuesday, 28 October 2008

North Korean leader 'in hospital'

Kim Jong-il (file image)
Precise information about Kim Jong-il is difficult to obtain in secretive N Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is probably still in hospital, but capable of making decisions, according to Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso.

Mr Aso said intelligence reports showed Mr Kim's condition was not good and he was being treated by a French surgeon.

Mr Kim's health has been the subject of intense speculation since he failed to appear at a key parade in September.

US and South Korean officials say he may have suffered a stroke, but the North says this is a lie.

European surgeon?

Mr Aso did not reveal where the intelligence reports came from, saying: "In this era, we get information from many sectors."

But he told the foreign policy committee that Japan had "information that Mr Kim is probably in hospital".

"His condition isn't good. But we don't think that he's in a state where he's incapable of making any decisions at all," Mr Aso said.

South Koreans watch TV reporting on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il
There has been intense speculation about Kim's health in recent weeks

The Japanese leader also appeared to confirm Japanese television reports that Mr Kim was receiving treatment from a French brain surgeon.

Earlier this week, Fuji TV broadcast footage of what it claimed was Mr Kim's eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, entering a Paris clinic for a discussion about his father's health.

South Korean intelligence officials have also said they believe Kim Jong-nam recently travelled to France.

Rumours about Kim Jong-il's state of health began when he missed several important anniversary celebrations.

North Korean officials have consistently denied that their leader is ill, and earlier this month official media released pictures of Mr Kim inspecting a military unit.

But several experts say the pictures may have been shot months earlier, fuelling yet more speculation.

The rumours come amid ongoing international efforts to end North Korea's nuclear programme.

Progress had stalled because Pyongyang was angry that the US had not taken it off a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

But the US has now removed it from the list, so North Korea has restarted work to dismantle its nuclear facilities.

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