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(CNN) – North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un hasn't been seen at a public event for three weeks, including a prominent state meeting that he has attended every year since coming to power in late 2011.
On Thursday, Kim was conspicuously absent from the Supreme People's Assembly. That same day, North Korean state TV appeared to acknowledge Kim's absence, saying, "The wealth and prosperity of our socialism is thanks to the painstaking efforts of our marshal, who keeps lighting the path for the people, like the flicker of a flame, despite suffering from discomfort."
"That is quite unusual," Victor Cha, professor of Asian studies at Georgetown University, said of the announcement.
"They had to do it in tandem with this Supreme People's Assembly, which is the major political gathering of the party and elite in the country. And so for him not to be present, it had to be explained somehow," says Cha.
Recent footage of Kim shows the young leader walking with a slight limp. Experts note heart disease and health problems have plagued the Kim family, with some speculating the young man could be suffering from gout.
The North Korean ruler is under enormous amounts of stress, likely due in no small part to some poor leadership decisions, says Cha.
"He's running (the country) into the ground as he pursues his own little pet projects like ski resorts and amusement parks," he said.
Kim did execute his uncle, a mentor and political rival, leading to speculation that something more than "discomfort" is at play, that his absence is in fact a sign of political instability.
"We can't rule it out," says Cha. "It could be something more serious. There's been a lot of turnover in the structure of the military and the party in North Korea, in addition to this famous uncle who was executed. There's been a lot of turnover in the system."
For more of our interview with Georgetown University's Victor Cha, check out the video above.