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N. Korea's leader absent

WASHINGTON — North Korean leader Kim Jong Il failed to appear Tuesday at a military parade marking the nuclear-armed communist state's 60th anniversary, and a U.S. intelligence official said Kim appeared to be seriously ill and might have had a stroke.

Kim has ruled North Korea since his father died in 1994, and his incapacity would raise significant worries about the country's stability and the future of already-troubled diplomatic efforts to eliminate its nuclear weapons cache.

"There is reason to believe that the North Korean leader has suffered serious health setbacks in recent months, possibly to include a stroke," said the U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A South Korean newspaper, Chosun Ilbo, reported this week that Kim, who's thought to be 67, collapsed in August and was being treated by Chinese doctors. It cited South Korean diplomats in Beijing.

Kim has for years been the subject of rumors about his health, which have proved unfounded in the past. North Korea is a closed, one-party state, and there's no way to confirm Kim's condition. Kim hasn't appeared in public since mid-August.

In late August, North Korea announced that it would stop disabling its facilities to make fuel for nuclear weapons. Since the announcement, North Korea has taken steps toward restarting its nuclear weapons program.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Tuesday that he couldn't confirm reports of Kim's ill health, but suggested that there might be problems with North Korea's decision-making process.

Kim has had a reputation as a heavy drinker and smoker and a lover of fine foods. Korea-watchers say photographs of him over the last eight years show a man who has aged rapidly.

Unlike his late father, "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung, the younger Kim hasn't publicly anointed any of his three sons to succeed him.

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