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(4th LD) N. Korea confirms purge of leader's powerful uncle

All Headlines 16:34 December 09, 2013
N. Korea confirms Jang's downfall

(4th LD) N. Korea confirms purge of leader's powerful uncle
(ATTN: UPDATES with footage of Jang's arrest in 5-6 paras; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, Dec. 9 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's powerful uncle has been dismissed from all posts for trying to form his own faction within the ruling party, Pyongyang's state media reported Monday, in the latest purge that could be designed to consolidate Kim's power.

Jang Song-thaek, the former vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission who had long been viewed as the young leader's guardian, is also accused of irregularities and corruption, as well as disobeying Kim's orders.

"Jang desperately worked to form a faction within the party," the political bureau of the ruling Workers' Party said in Sunday's decision carried by the country's official Korean Central News Agency. "Prompted by his politically motivated ambition, he tried to increase his force and build his base."

The party's political bureau also alleged that Jang, who had held several senior positions in the government, abused his power and had improper relations with several women, abused drugs and squandered foreign currency at casinos while receiving medical treatment abroad.

Footage from North Korea's state television showed Jang being arrested at the party's political bureau meeting in Pyongyang on Sunday and whisked away by two uniformed military officers.

It is the first time for North Korea to release footage of the arrest of a senior official on the spot since the 1970s.

The latest purge is widely seen as part of a campaign to consolidate the power of Kim, who took over the communist country after his father, Kim Jong-il, died in December 2011.

The purge "appears to be aimed at establishing Kim's monolithic leadership and solidifying his power base," said an official who closely monitors developments in North Korea at the Unification Ministry. She asked not to be identified, citing policy.

Jang Song-thaek's ousting highly likely

The purge could also lead to a shake-up of the North's leadership as the party's political bureau accused Jang and his followers of gnawing at the party's unity.

"Jang's purge and the public execution of his aides could create a sense of insecurity among the elite, which in turn could prompt them to compete with each other to pledge their allegiance to Kim," said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute, a private security think tank near Seoul.

Jang, who is married to the late leader Kim Jong-il's younger sister, Kim Kyong-hui, was believed to have wielded a strong influence in state affairs, but now his whereabouts remain unclear.

Some speculate that Jang could be sent to a political prison camp, citing a 1969 case in which two senior officials were purged and sent to a political prison camp after being labeled as anti-party figures.

North Korea branded Jang and his followers as anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional figures, a strong indication that they could face severe punishment.

"The lowest possible punishment may be imprisonment in a political camp," said a former senior North Korean official who is now settled in South Korea, noting the North made public anti-state crimes allegedly committed by Jang.

Also Monday, North Korea's main newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, reported Jang's purge in a front-page article while carrying lyrics praising Kim on the second page.

The North's confirmation of the latest purge came days after South Korea's spy agency reported to lawmakers that Jang has likely been removed from power and also that two of his confidants were publicly executed.

It is not rare, however, for the communist country to purge senior officials.

Last year, Ri Yong-ho, the chief of the military's general staff, was removed from all his posts because of an unspecified "illness."

In 2010, the North reportedly executed Pak Nam-ki, former chief of the planning and finance department of the ruling party, over his botched currency reform the previous year.

The purge of Jang came ahead of the second death anniversary of Kim's father and former North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il.


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