January 14, 2014

NORTH KOREA: North Korea Executes Leader's Powerful Uncle In Rare Public Purge; North Korea Marks Anniversary Without Kim Jong Un's Aunt

Yahoo news
written by Jack Kim and David Chance, Reuters
Friday December 13, 2013

SEOUL - North Korea has executed the powerful uncle of young leader Kim Jong Un, state media said on Friday, the biggest upheaval in years as the ruling dynasty sought to distance itself from responsibility for the isolated states's dire living standards.

Jang Song Thaek, considered the second most powerful man in the secretive North, was killed just days ahead of the second anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il, the father of North Korea's current ruler.

The execution coincided with Kim Jong Un - the third Kim to rule North Korea - suddenly being portrayed in state media as the image of his father rather than his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, who is still revered as the founder of the nation.

Kim Jong Il was blamed by some for the 1990s famine that killed a million people.

The North's KCNA news agency released pictures on Friday of a handcuffed Jang being manhandled by guards and said that he had been executed for trying to seize power and for driving the economy "into an uncontrollable catastrophe".

Jang was pictured in the ruling party's Rodong Sinmun newspaper without his Kim Il Sung loyalty badge on his lapel when he was led away, which would indicate his disloyalty to North Koreans who all wear lapel badges.

"Jang Song Thaek has been purged in a way that suggests Kim Jong Un wanted to make a point," Ruediger Frank, a North Korea expert, wrote in an article on Johns Hopkins University's U.S. Korea Institute website 38 North on Friday.

The dictatorial North has been run by the same family since 1948. Its economy, which was once larger than South Korea's, is now a fortieth the size of its prosperous neighbor. Its 24 million people regularly suffer food shortages, according to the United Nations.

The younger Kim has been credited in the North's media with presiding over a powerful military state as well as an economic revival.


Jang was married to Kim Jong Un's paternal aunt and is believed to have been 67 years old. He had been purged in 2004 and disappeared from public view until 2006, but became a vice chairman of the powerful National Defence Commission and a member of the ruling Workers' Party politburo.

He had visited Beijing, North Korea's only major ally, and was in charge of economic projects as well running a string of illicit money-raising schemes for Pyongyang, according to North Korea experts and defectors.

While North Korea has purged many officials in its 65-year history, it is rare that anyone so powerful had been removed in such a public manner - suggesting a recognition of internal divisions and of competing factions surrounding Kim Jong Un.

"This is a man who could have competently executed a coup in North Korea," said Mike Madden, an expert on the North's power structure and author of the North Korea Leadership Watch website and blog.

The commentary from KCNA said that Jang had been plotting to overthrow Kim Jong Un and had "a fantastic dream to become premier... to grab the supreme power of the party and state".

"The accused Jang brought together undesirable forces and formed a faction as the boss of a modern day factional group for a long time and thus committed such hideous crime as attempting to overthrow the state," KCNA said.

"The special military tribunal of the Ministry of State Security of the DPRK ... ruled that he would be sentenced to death according to it. The decision was immediately executed," it said, using the North's title of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

North Korean politics are virtually impenetrable from outside and Jang could also easily have been purged over a falling out with Kim, or even with his wife.

There are signs that the North's 1.2-million strong army has sought to assert power and that Jang ran foul of Vice Marshal Choe Ryong Hae, the top political operative for the armed forces.

Earlier this week, North Korea said it had stripped Jang of his power and positions, accusing him of criminal acts including mismanagement of the state financial system, womanizing and alcohol abuse.

"From long ago, Jang had a dirty political ambition. He dared not raise his head when Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il were alive," KCNA said.

"He began revealing his true colors, thinking that it was just the time for him to realize his wild ambition," it said.

Regional powers have watched the purge of Jang and his associates for implications to regional security.

South Korea's presidential office said it had held a ministerial meeting to review the developments, although the government in Seoul said it had not detected any unusual military activity in the North.

The young Kim, believed to be about 30, has carried out two long-range missile tests and a nuclear weapons test in defiance of United Nations sanctions since he took office two years ago.

At the same time as pursuing his father's nuclear and military ambitions, he has been portrayed as the North's "master builder" for presiding over an attempt to revive its moribund economy.

The United States said it was following the developments in North Korea and consulting with allies in the region.

"If confirmed, this is another example of the extreme brutality of the North Korean regime," said White House National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell.


Reuters news
written by James Pearson
Tuesday December 17, 2013

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's aunt was absent from a state memorial ceremony on Tuesday raising questions about her influence days after her husband, also a top state official, was executed.

The purging and execution of Jang Song Thaek on Friday was the biggest upheaval in years in North Korea, which has conducted three nuclear tests and this year raised the possibility of nuclear war with South Korea and the United States.

Jang was married to Kim Kyong Hui, a daughter of state founder Kim Il Sung and sister of the country's second leader, Kim Jong Il. She is an aunt of current leader Kim Jong Un, the third Kim to rule.

North Korea's KCNA news agency said last week Jang had been executed for trying to seize power and for driving the economy "into an uncontrollable catastrophe".

On Tuesday, his wife did not appear at a ceremony marking the second anniversary of the death of her brother, North Korea's second leader, Kim Jong Il.

Together, she and Jang had been considered the "Pyongyang power couple", the real force behind the North Korean leadership, before Jang was labeled a traitor and executed.

Kim Kyong Hui usually features prominently at important North Korean events alongside her nephew, the young new leader, Kim Jong Un, and other members of the North Korean elite.

North Korean state media did not say why she was absent from the commemoration at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, in the capital, Pyongyang.

Political leaders, including Kim Jong Un and his wife, paid respects to the late Kim Jong Il, whose embalmed body lies in a glass coffin in the palace.

Kim Kyong Hui has been absent from such events in the past, stoking speculation that she was ill, only to reappear later.


Earlier in the day, the political and military elite publicly pledged their loyalty to Kim Jong Un at the memorial gathering, less than a week after the young leader ordered the execution of the powerful family ally, Jang.

The young Kim was the center of attention at the gathering with state television showed him sitting center stage beneath a big red mural of a flag emblazoned with a picture of his smiling father.

Kim, believed to be about 30, took over when his father died in December 2011.

Cheong Seong-jang, an analyst at the Sejong institute, a Seoul-based think tank, said by getting rid of his uncle, Jang, the young Kim had consolidated his position.

"By eliminating the only other faction, the power in North Korea is now fully concentrated on Kim Jong Un," Cheong said.

Since taking over as leader, the young Kim has followed his father's program by ordering the North's third nuclear test and successfully launching a long-range rocket in the face of increasingly tight U.N. sanctions.

Jang was the only leadership figure who may have posed any real threat to him.

While North Korea has purged many officials in its 65-year history, it is rare that anyone as powerful as Jang has been removed so publicly - suggesting a recognition of internal divisions and competing factions around Kim Jong Un.

The young Kim has removed most of Pyongyang's old guard during his comparatively short rule, replacing ageing generals and cadres with figures closer to his age.

He has changed his Korean People's Army (KPA) chief of staff four times. The job changed hands three times during his father's 17 years in power.

Choe Ryong Hae, a party apparatchik who has been around the Kim family for decades but had kept out of the limelight until three years ago, now appears to be the most influential adviser to Kim Jong Un.

On Monday, Choe addressed a gathering of soldiers outside the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, stressing the army's unswerving loyalty to the young Kim.

"It will always remain the army of Kim Jong Un defending him unto death and upholding his leadership only," an official KCNA news agency dispatch quoted Choe as saying.

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