SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea's new, young leader Kim Jong Un is married, state TV reported Wednesday for the first time in a brief and otherwise routine announcement that ends weeks of speculation about a beautiful woman who has 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 news anchor 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 a bench and spoke to officials.
Kim's several public appearances with the woman, and Wednesday's almost off-hand announcement that he is married, are a striking contrast to the style of his father, Kim Jong Il, whose 17-year rule was known for its secrecy. The elder Kim's companions and children weren't discussed — including Kim Jong Un, who was virtually unknown before his formal introduction to the world in late 2010.
"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."
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.
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.
There have been other changes. In the seven months Kim Jong Un has ruled since his father's death in December, the 20-something leader has promoted younger generals and officials and, most recently, dismissed former military chief Ri Yong Ho, once seen as a key mentor during Kim's rise to power.
South Korean media have closely followed the bits and pieces North Korean media have released about Kim Jong Un's companion, including scenes of them 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 the South were quick to guess that she was his wife.
During his tour of the amusement park, Kim enjoyed a show by dolphins, visited a mini golf course and a wading pool and checked out courts for basketball, volleyball and beach volleyball, said the official Korean Central News Agency, which made no mention of the wife. She was seen in pictures released by North Korea walking next to Kim and attending the dolphin show.
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.
The United States and its allies have long pushed North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, but international atomic disarmament talks have been stalled since late 2008. North Korea, meanwhile, also struggles to feed its people. A recent U.N. report said two-thirds of its 24 million people face chronic food shortages, and access to clean water, regular electricity and medicine is still remote for most of those living in the underdeveloped countryside. A U.S.-based rights group also estimates tens of thousands of prisoners remain held in Soviet-style penal camps.