On Friday, North Korea said that it has executed Kim Jong-un’s uncle, calling the leader’s former mentor a traitor who tried to seize power and overthrow the state.
The stunning announcement came only days after Jang Song-thaek — long considered the country’s No. 2 power — was removed from all his posts because of a long list of allegations, including corruption, drug use, gambling and womanizing.
In an unusually detailed announcement, the official news agency KCNA said Jang had been tried for “such hideous crime as attempting to overthrow the state by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods with a wild ambition to grab the supreme power of our party and state”.
It called him a “traitor to the nation for all ages” and “worse than a dog”.
Analysts have said that Kim Jong-un has acted swiftly and ruthlessly to bolster his own power and show strength, but there has been fear in Seoul that the removal of Jang and his followers could lead to instability or lead to a miscalculation or attack on the South. Jang had been seen by outsiders as the leading supporter of Chinese-style economic reforms.
North Korea has recently turned to attempts at diplomacy with South Korea and the United States. But tensions have remained high since Pyongyang threatened nuclear strikes on Seoul and Washington last spring, and warn that it would restart nuclear bomb fuel production.
There was no immediate word about the fate of Jang’s wife, Kim Kyong-hui, the younger sister of Kim Jong-il. She was also seen as a key mentor to Kim Jong-un after her brother’s December 2011 death.
The White House said that it could not independently confirm reports of Jang’s execution but it has “no reason to doubt” the report from the official Korean Central News Agency that it took place.
Tensions between North Korea and South Korea soared this year as Pyongyang reacted angrily to tightened United Nations sanctions imposed in response to its latest nuclear test.