• Kyodo

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A very close aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un left for Brazil on Saturday to attend the opening ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games next week.

The departure of Choe Ryong Hae, a vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, was confirmed at Pyongyang’s international airport.

After stopping over in Beijing Choe, who is also head of the State Physical Culture and Sports Commission, will head to Brazil to attend Friday’s ceremony. He is expected to stay in the Latin American country for about a week, according to diplomatic sources.

North Korea has already sent about 30 athletes to Rio de Janeiro, where they will compete in nine events including wrestling, judo, weightlifting, table tennis and in the marathon.

Kim is known as an avid fan of basketball and other sports. He has been eager to strengthen North Korea’s athletic prowess since inheriting power following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in late 2011.

The dispatch of Choe may be a sign that North Korea’s leadership wants to boost national prestige through the Olympics Games, which will run through Aug. 21.

In 2014, when the Winter Olympics was held in the Russian resort city of Sochi, North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam attended its opening ceremony.

North Korea has diplomatic relations with Brazil.

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