North Korean leader visited China's southern Guangdong province

North Korea's secretive leader Kim Jong Il was reportedly visiting southern China's financial center of Shenzhen on Friday, amid a news blackout by Chinese authorities. China's refusal to comment on Kim's whereabouts has prompted speculation he could be anywhere from northeast China's Tianjin to Guangdong province, near Hong Kong. Kim, who last visited chief ally China in 2004, reportedly crossed the border by train on Tuesday, although Chinese authorities have refused to confirm or deny that he is even in the country. China usually only announces visits by Kim after he leaves. Officials in charge of responding to media inquiries in Guangdong did not answer repeated phone calls on Friday.

The Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post reported that Kim arrived at the five-star White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou, the provincial capital, the day before and planned to tour the nearby city of Shenzhen on Friday. Japan's Nippon TV filmed a figure getting into a limousine outside the hotel's main entrance. The person, surrounded by security guards, appeared to have Kim's trademark bouffant hairstyle. But it was difficult to make out his face because the footage was shot from a distance in hazy weather. The limousine drove away as four bodyguards in dark suits jogged briefly alongside. The island where the hotel is located was closed to vehicle traffic, local police officials said.

Japan's Kyodo News agency, in a report from Guangzhou, said a hotel employee, who was not named, told a reporter Kim was staying at the White Swan. Hotel staff confirmed to The Associated Press that the city government booked the facility during the weekend, obliging other guests to move elsewhere. But they would not say why.

Chinese authorities often temporarily stop traffic for motorcades and take over hotels for government meetings. However, top government leaders and foreign visitors usually stay in secluded guest houses. Closing off an entire commercial hotel like the White Swan is extremely unusual.

"The commander, as far as I know, is staying in North Korea at present," Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency quoted the unidentified official as saying, apparently referring to Kim in his role as leader of the North's military, reports the AP. N.U.

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