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FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un heads a party meeting in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang April 9, 2018. KCNA/via Reuters(reuters_tickers)
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly convened and discussed state finances, state media said on Thursday, but leader Kim Jong Un appeared to be absent from the proceedings.
An empty seat, presumed to be the leader's, could be seen in photographs distributed by the North's official news agency, KCNA, but reports made no mention of his attendance at Wednesday's event.
The rubber-stamp parliament holds meetings once or twice a year to approve decisions on issues such as governing structures and budgets prepared by the state’s powerful Workers' Party, whose members make up the vast majority of the assembly.
Kim's attendance is not mandatory at the event, although he has made speeches in the past. Wednesday's meeting comes just a few weeks ahead of the first summit in more than a decade between the leaders of the two Koreas, set for April 27.
The assembly has been in the spotlight because of a recent flurry of diplomacy centering on North Korea, including the inter-Korean summit, with policymakers keen to see if Kim Jong Un would offer comments yielding insight on his likely stances.
Speakers at the meeting touched on the North's economic strides in the past year, adding that the state budget had been used "exactly", KCNA said, without specifying the total figure.
Of last year's budget, 15.8 percent went to bolster the North's military defences while 47.7 percent was used to boost the economy, it added.
Kim is due to meet U.S. President Donald Trump in late May or early June, Trump said this week. Separately, Kim chaired a party meeting on Monday where he assessed future talks with Washington and the approaching summit with the South.
KCNA announced changes in the senior North Korean leadership. It confirmed that Hwang Pyong So, a former member of Kim's inner circle, was dismissed from his post as vice chairman of the State Affairs Commission, although it gave no reason.
Last year, South Korean intelligence officials said Hwang had been removed from his position for unspecified reasons.
Hwang, a shy, bespectacled general in his mid-60s, had an unprecedented rise to the top rungs of the North’s leadership in the space of a few years.
Last year, South Korea's spy agency said his apparent punishment was orchestrated by rival Choe Ryong Hae, who now serves as a vice chairman of the State Affairs Commission and took a high-profile role in Wednesday's assembly.
(Reporting by Christine Kim; Additional reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Clive McKeef and Clarence Fernandez)