(AP) North Korea purges Kim Jong Un’s powerful uncle
By FOSTER KLUG
SEOUL, South Korea
North Korea announced Monday it had sacked leader Kim Jong Un’s uncle, long considered the country’s No. 2 power, saying corruption, drug use, gambling, womanizing and generally leading a “dissolute and depraved life” had caused Pyongyang’s highest-profile fall from grace since Kim took power two years ago.
The removal of Jang Song Thaek, once seen as Kim’s mentor, is the most significant in a series of purges the young leader has conducted in an apparent effort to bolster his power since his father’s 2011 death. But worries remained over whether the expulsion of such a senior figure could instead lead to less stability and open up the possibility of a power struggle.
The dispatch from the North’s state media came about a week after South Korea’s spy agency said two of Jang’s closest assistants had been executed for corruption. With tensions on the Korean Peninsula still high following a torrent of threats in March and April by Kim’s government against Washington, Seoul and Tokyo, there were fears in Seoul that confusion in the North could lead to a miscalculation or attack. Analysts believe Pyongyang has a handful of crude nuclear bombs.
South Korea’s defense ministry said there have been no suspicious military movements, however.
The allegations against Jang, 67, couldn’t be independently confirmed, and there was no mention of further punishment for Jang. State TV showed images of two uniformed guards holding Jang by the arms at a meeting of the country’s Political Bureau.
Jang, seen by outsiders as the North’s leading supporter of Chinese-style economic reforms, has reportedly been cast down before only to return to power. But Monday’s announcement was especially shrill, even by the standards of North Korea’s state media, suggesting this time he won’t be coming back.
Jang _ who is married to Kim Jong Un’s aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, the younger sister of Kim Jong Il _ was described as “abusing his power,” being “engrossed in irregularities and corruption,” and taking drugs and squandering money at casinos while undergoing medical treatment in a foreign country. The dispatch also said he had “improper relations with several women and was wined and dined at back parlors of deluxe restaurants.”
The decision to strip Jang of all posts and titles and expel him from the ruling Workers’ Party was made at a Political Bureau meeting of the party’s Central Committee on Sunday. The dispatch also said that the purge would extend to supporters of Jang but did not provide details.
A recent state documentary in the North that aired Saturday had all images of Jang removed.
Referring to North Korea as a “popular democratic dictatorship,” Monday’s state media dispatch said “Jang seriously obstructed the nation’s economic affairs and the improvement of the standard of people’s living.” Kim Jong Un has vowed to lift the country from poverty while also pursuing a nuclear weapons program that has drawn worldwide criticism _ and heavy economic sanctions.
The announcement also hinted that Jang was trying to build a powerbase of his own to rival that of the party status quo, saying that he committed anti-party, counter-revolutionary acts and “pretended to uphold the party and leader” while double-dealing behind the scenes.
Jang has held a string of senior jobs, including membership in the National Defense Commission, the government’s top ruling body. He served as a leading economic policy official in charge of the push to draw foreign investment, traveling in 2012 to China to discuss the establishment of special economic zones. He had also assumed responsibility for North Korea’s burgeoning sports industry, a pet project of Kim Jong Un’s.
Kim Jong Un has reportedly overseen other purges of senior officials, though none as high profile as this one.
One of the most notable personnel changes was the 2012 firing of military chief Ri Yong Ho, who was once also dubbed a mentor to Kim Jong Un. State media said he was dismissed in July 2012 due to an unspecified illness, but analysts speculated that Ri was purged because Kim wanted to reshape the power structure.
The North publicly executed 17 people last year and 40 this year, according to lawmakers in Seoul who were briefed by South Korea’s spy agency last week.
AP writers Hyung-jin Kim and Youkyung Lee in Seoul and Eric Talmadge in Tokyo contributed to this report.
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