Removal of portraits sparks speculation over Kim Jong Un's status

Disappearance of portraits of previous N. Korean leaders from Kim Il Sung Square could be sign Kim Jong Un has died

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Kim Jong Un (left), portraits of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il (right). (AP and Wikimedia Commons photos)

Kim Jong Un (left), portraits of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il (right). (AP and Wikimedia Commons photos)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The sudden removal of two portraits and a statue from Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang is rekindling speculation about Kim Jong Un's health and leadership status in the highly secretive country.

Huge portraits of Kim's grandfather and father, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, were suddenly and unceremoniously removed, reported NK News on Friday (May 15). Roy Calley, a journalist and frequent traveler to North Korea, added that he had been informed a statue of Kim Jong Il has also been dismantled, reported the Daily Express.

Calley told the news agency that the last time Kim Il Sung Square was renovated was when Kim Jong Il died in 2012. "The fact that portraits have been removed is very interesting," said Calley.

He pointed out that based on North Korean conventions, Kim cannot have any portraits or statues made in his likeness "unless he's dead." Calley speculated that the North Koreans are planning to add a third portrait for the youngest Kim as well as a new statue, "but who knows?"

NK News reported that satellite images taken on May 11 showed that the viewing platform in Kim Il Sung Square, where senior officials watch military parades, has been demolished. In addition, the news site reports that the west side of the square has been closed off to vehicles.

In April, there was much speculation that Kim had died from an unsuccessful operation. However, a video surfaced on May 2 purportedly showing Kim hailing the opening of a fertilizer factory, seemingly proving that he was still very much alive after disappearing from the public eye for three weeks.

Now that the dictator has disappeared for another two weeks, speculation is rising again that the video was taken previously and that he may indeed be dead after all. If Kim has died, some believe that his sister Kim Yo Jong could take the reins.

Given that North Korea is such a male-dominated society, some experts suggest she may take a high-level position, but not the top spot, while others believe a male figurehead could be put in place while she pulls the strings from behind the scenes.