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North Koreans are concerned about Kim Jong’s “haggard appearance” Hyung-Jin Kim

South Korea – Heartbroken North Koreans have tearfully worried about the “sunken looks” of Leader Kim Jong Un, state media said, citing a local resident in rare recognition of foreign speculation about his weight loss.

The comments were seen as an effort to bolster internal support for Kim’s efforts as he grapples with mounting economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, mismanagement, UN economic sanctions, and natural disasters.

“The hearts of our people ached the most when we saw (Kim’s) gaunt appearance,” said North Korean state television on Friday, citing an unidentified resident in a straw hat. “Everyone says that tears naturally come to your eyes.”

Related: Kim Jong Un Warns of ‘Tense’ Food Situation in North Korea, Expanded COVID-19 Restrictions

In recent state media photos, Kim appears to have lost significant weight. Some North Korean observers said Kim, who is about 6 feet tall and weighs up to 308 pounds, 37-year-old Kim, may have lost between 22 and 44 pounds.

Kim’s health has been the focus of much external attention because the leader has not publicly anointed a successor who will take responsibility for advancing the North Korean nuclear arsenal against the United States and its allies when incapacitated.

Some analysts in Seoul said Kim likely went on a diet to improve his health. Others have speculated that their weight loss might be related to health problems.

Known for heavy drinking and smoking, Kim comes from a family with heart problems. His father and grandfather, who ruled North Korea before him, died of heart problems.

In the past few months, Kim has called for greater efforts to overcome what he calls “the worst crisis” caused by the pandemic-induced border closure that has dramatically reduced North Korea’s international trade. The nation has also been hit by ongoing US-led sanctions and summer storms that destroyed crops last year.

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