North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been reported dead as officials scramble to try and verify the claims.
The US are closely monitoring the situation as China dispatched a medical team in an attempt to find out the truth from the highly secretive nation.
It followed days of speculation over the health of the tubby 36-year-old, not seen publicly for two weeks.
Chinese journalist Shijian Xingzou said a “very solid source” told her the North Korean leader had died.
She has 15 million followers on Chinese social media site Weibo, and she is also the niece of one of the the country’s foreign ministers.
Separately, a Japanese media outlet claimed Kim was in a “vegetative state” after undergoing heart surgery.
Weekly newspaper Shukan Gendai claimed he was visiting the countryside when he clutched his chest and collapsed.
A member of his entourage gave CPR and escorted him to hospital.
But the dictator was left severely ill after a delayed or botched procedure to fit a stent in an artery, it was claimed.
Another report from Beijing claimed that the heart op went wrong because the terrified surgeon’s hands kept shaking.
Kim was last seen on April 11 at a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party to discuss the coronavirus threat.
On Tuesday Daily NK, an online newspaper based in South Korea, claimed the surgery was on April 12.
It forced him to miss the national birthday celebrations of his late grandfather and North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung.
Other rumours stated he was staying at his holiday home in Wonsan after leaving Pyongyang as advisors had contracted coronavirus.
Satellite pictures released by North Korea watchers 38 North reveal what is believed to be his private armoured train parked near the resort this week.
US national security adviser Robert O’Brien confirmed on Wednesday the Trump administration was monitoring the reports on Kim’s health “very closely”.
But South Korean officials reported no unusual activity within its neighbour, and President Trump later said he thought the reports of Kim’s ill-health were “incorrect”.
It is unclear what would happen if Kim — in charge of North Korea since 2011 — is sidelined by health problems or dies.
North Korea has yet to give any meaningful indication of who would succeed him as leader.
His sister Kim Yo-jong would most likely emerge as a possible leader, but there could be a violent power struggle in a country where internal dissent is crushed.
China, one of North Korea’s few allies globally, dispatched a specialist medical team to help in the leader’s care on Thursday.
The delegation is thought to have been led by a senior member of the Chinese Communist Party’s International Liaison Department, an agency charged with conducting relations with and influencing states and groups outside China.
Experts have also warned that the power vacuum left could result in an ugly civil war involving rival military units within the North Korean army.
An official familiar with US intelligence said that Kim was known to have health problems but they had no reason to conclude he was seriously ill or unable eventually to reappear in public.
President Trump, who met Kim in 2018, also sought to downplay reports of his poor health.
“I think the report was incorrect,” he told reporters, though he declined to say if he had been in touch with North Korean officials.
Kim’s health has been subject to much speculation – with the dictator believed to weigh 20 stone while standing 5ft 6in.
This would give him a BMI of 44.9 and classification of morbidly obese.
Intelligence services have claimed Kim is a prolific binge eater, drinker and smoker – all having major impacts on his health, including reports he has diabetes.
He has an allegedly legendary appetite, gorging himself on Swiss cheese and other rich food while drinking as many as ten bottles of wine in a night.
The rotund ruler has also previously battled gout, and is said to at times need to walk with a cane.
Both his dad Kim Jong-il and granddad Kim Il-sung died of heart attacks.
And while people crack jokes about Kim’s weight battle, around 40 per cent of North Korea’s population is undernourished.
It is estimated one in five children born under the dictator’s regime at stunted due to malnutrition.
North Korea remains silent, and its likely the world will not know for sure whether he is dead or ill until it is announced on the secretive regime’s carefully controlled state TV.
Speaking on Friday, a South Korean government source reiterated that their intelligence was that Kim was still alive and should be making an appearance soon.
In 2013 Kim executed his uncle and mentor Jang Song-thaek, who was accused of treason and corruption, in an effort to consolidate his rule.
In 2017 the US and North Korea appeared to be barreling towards war, with Mr Trump threatening Kim with “fire and fury”.
But the next two years saw a surprising series of summits between the two leaders as North Korea tried to shift heavy economic sanctions.
Despite the apparent breakthroughs, Kim maintained his right to a nuclear arsenal and negotiations between the two nations ended in a stalemate.