Kim 'in come', sister grabs power
The health of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the repeated unexplained disappearances from public have South Korean media in a frenzy.
A former South Korean official has told local broadcasters that recent moves within North Korea to give Kim's sister - Kim Yo Jong - unprecedented powers is the result of the dictator's failing health.
Chang Song-min, a former aide to late-South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, alleged Kim is "in a coma".
"I assess him to be in a coma, but his life has not ended," he told South Korean media.
He noted that Kim's sister, who is just 33, is poised to take the leadership in his absence.
"A complete succession structure has not been formed, so Kim Yo-jong is being brought to the fore as the vacuum cannot be maintained for a prolonged period," Chang said.
As reported by The Guardian over the weekend, Kim Yo Jong has been given partial authority to oversee general state affairs in a move that is seen as easing Kim's workload.
CNN reports that South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) told the country's politicians that Kim's sister is now "de-facto second in command".
The power shift also means other top-ranking officials in Pyongyang will be given greater autonomy, nine years after Kim took power.
North Korean state-run news agency KCNA reports that a meeting with the country's top leaders is being organised amid concerns about the impact of the coronavirus.
Kim Yo Jong has shown she is ready to take on a greater role if rumours about her brother's ill health are true. She has been outspoken in the past, including in July this year when she directly challenged the US.
Kim commented that meetings with the US and North Korea need not go ahead because the Trump organisation had shown it was unwilling to budge from its stance on the country's nuclear weapons program.
"I am of the view that the DPRK-US summit talks is not needed this year and beyond, and for our part, it is not beneficial to us unless the U.S. shows decisive change in its stand," Kim Yo-jong said, according to the Yonhap news agency.
"Moreover, I think that we should not accept an offer of the summit talks this year, no matter how badly the US wants it, far from talking about its possibility," she said.
In April and May this year, the Supreme Leader's disappearance from public life sparked wild rumours about his declining health.
He was not seen in public for three weeks before appearing at a factory in the city on Sunchon. The New York Times reports the rumours included fears Kim had undergone heart surgery and was not recovering well.
Originally published as Kim's sister gets unprecedented power