BEIJING -- North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is officially off the market.
The country's state-run television announced Wednesday that the young leader of the reclusive nation is married to a woman named Ri Sol Ju.
She is believed to be the same woman who has been seen by the North Korean leader's side during various public events in recent weeks, including a ceremony marking the 18th anniversary of the death of Kim's grandfather, the nation's founder, Kim Il Sung.
North Korean state media reported that Kim, accompanied by Ri, attended a ceremony marking the completion of an amusement park in the capital of Pyongyang on Wednesday.
The couple are thought to be in their late 20s. Ri is believed to be a singer who has performed in front of national audiences. It was not clear when they were married.
The revelation of the marriage marks a stark departure from the secrecy of the regime as run by Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, who died in December. Little was known about the elder Kim's wife or mistresses.
The new leader appears to be trying to build a softer image, smiling in official photographs and embracing children. A recent concert in the capital included Disney characters and an electric violinist playing the theme song to "Rocky."
The removal of North Korea's top military chief earlier this month has been viewed as a purge aimed at consolidating Kim Jong Un's power to possibly take the economically paralyzed country in a new direction.
Koh Yoo Hwan, a North Korea studies professor at Dongguk University in Seoul, said Kim Jong Un was likely influenced by Western ideas while schooled for years in Switzerland.
"Kim Jong Un got a Western education, so he might have gotten the idea of [a] first lady” there, Koh said. "Since he will be in power for long, he may have decided that revealing his spouse is better than hiding them like his father did."
Koh added: "Kim Jong Un's mother wasn't exposed in public during his father's rule, so he might have felt resentful for that. His mother died early in his life, and he may feel relieved to have his spouse next to him."
Photo: North Korean media have carried photos and video of leader Kim Jong Un in the company of a woman now believed to be his new wife, Ri Sol Ju. Credit: Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service / Associated Press