North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made his first public appearance in 20 days as he celebrated the completion of a fertiliser factory near Pyongyang, state media said on Saturday, ending an absence that had triggered global rumours that he may be seriously ill.

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North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency reported that Kim attended the ceremony on Friday in Sunchon with other senior officials, including his sister Kim Yo Jong, who many analysts predict would take over if her brother is suddenly unable to rule.

The official Rodong Sinmun newspaper published several photos of Kim wearing black and smiling as he looked around the factory and cut a red ribbon, his sister looking from behind. Seemingly thousands of workers, many of them masked, stood in lines at the massive complex, releasing balloons into the air.

The images gave no clear sign that Kim was in discomfort. He wasn't seen with a walking stick, like the one he used in 2014 when he was recovering from a presumed ankle surgery. However, one of the photos at the factory showed a green electric cart, which appeared similar to a vehicle he used in 2014.