By Lee Tae-hoon
Analysis of photographs of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appears to support the growing speculation that he is suffering from kidney failure.
Pictures of the 68-year-old Kim taken since April last year display common symptoms of renal disease ― abnormally white fingernails and dark hands, Yonhap News reported Tuesday.
The color of his fingernails was light pink in pictures taken before he had a stroke in August 2008 and even in some pictures taken after his modest recovery in November the same year.
In contrast, the signs of the kidney disease ― discoloration of the skin ― are evident in Kim's recent photographs, including those taken during his inspection of an Air Force base in May, talks with former U.S. President Bill Clinton in August and meeting with senior Chinese official Wang Jiarui in February this year.
Doctors say patients undergoing kidney dialysis often suffer from hyper-pigmentation, which makes fingernails look whiter.
They estimate that Kim has been undergoing dialysis once every two to three days since May of last year.
Other sources say he might also be suffering from depression as an aftereffect of the stroke as well as complications from diabetes.
However, the government declined to comment on Kim's health, saying he does not appear to have any problem in ruling the communist regime.
On Saturday, Kim attended a mass rally marking the reopening of a long-closed textile factory, which appeared to be aimed at demonstrating his physical robustness and commitment to reviving the Stalinist country's ailing economy, according to Yonhap.
Kim, accompanied by top aides, attended a 100,000-strong rally held in the eastern coastal city of Hamhung to celebrate the re-launching of the Vinalon Complex.
Kim has rarely attended such large, business-related rallies, strictly limiting his appearances to ceremonies welcoming foreign state guests.
Observers here say the move was intended to show poverty-stricken North Koreans that Kim is concerned about the deteriorating economy and still physically fit enough to lead the country.
They also point out that his reported unstable health is likely to raise continuous speculation regarding a succession in North Korea's leadership.
Kim's third and youngest son, Jong-un, has been considered his heir apparent.