Kim Heads Back Home After a Hotel Steam Bath

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-il left Moscow on Wednesday, heading home on a secrecy-shrouded train journey after abruptly canceling sightseeing plans in Moscow.

Kim's 21-car train took him on a high-security, nine-day journey from North Korea to Moscow and then on a two-day jaunt to St. Petersburg. He departed Moscow about 6 p.m. Wednesday for a 10-day trip back to North Korea, news reports said.

On the way back to Moscow on Tuesday, Kim's train nearly crashed into a concrete railroad tie placed across the tracks just past Tver, said Igor Kolomeitsev, spokesman for the Kremlin envoy to the Far East, who accompanied Kim on the cross-country journey.

"Clearly someone laid it there," Kolomeitsev said by telephone. He suggested it was likely "hooliganism, not terrorism."

For security reasons, a separate locomotive has preceded Kim's train throughout the trip. The concrete slab was put on the rails after the first locomotive passed but before Kim's train approached, Kolomeitsev said.

The conductors of Kim's train saw the tie in time to abruptly stop, he said, adding that the passengers were rattled by the incident.

Kolomeitsev played down the capricious North Korean leader's frequent schedule changes, which have caused headaches for officials in several cities.

"It's a very full schedule. Sometimes he just wanted to rest," he said. "When we were traveling it was clear he was weary. In Omsk he was gloomy a lot, but in St. Petersburg he was joking and much revived," Kolomeitsev said.

The reclusive Kim had been expected to visit Red Square, several museums and a war memorial earlier Wednesday. But he canceled those plans and remained in his suite until midafternoon and then spent an hour in the Kremlin before leaving for the train station, Interfax said.

Itar-Tass quoted personnel at the Metropol Hotel as saying Kim had particularly enjoyed the sauna in his three-room presidential suite and requested the temperature in the steam room be raised beyond the usual 80 degrees Celsius.

At evening rush hour Wednesday, six commuter trains from Moscow's Yaroslavsky Station were delayed for 50 minutes during Kim's departure.