N.Korean Eminence Grise Jang Song-taek 'Stripped of All Posts'

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's uncle Jang Song-taek, who was seen as the eminence grise in the Stalinist country, has been sacked and stripped of all his posts, an intelligence official here said Tuesday.

Two of Jang's closest confidants, Ri Yong-ha and Jang Su-gil, were publicly executed for activities damaging the Workers Party in late November and there is a "strong possibility" that Jang Song-taek was sacked, the official said.

The source added North Korea is taking "follow-up measures" against officials linked to agencies and organizations Jang had headed. "The purge is continuing and the scope is difficult to predict," the official said.

South Korean intelligence officials believe the administrative division of the Workers Party, which was headed by Jang, has also been disabled or dismantled.

News of the execution is being carefully leaked and the regime working hard to quell any signs of unrest, the official said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his uncle Jang Song-taek (left) attend a military parade in Pyongyang on Feb. 16, 2013. /Reuters-Newsis North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his uncle Jang Song-taek (left) attend a military parade in Pyongyang on Feb. 16, 2013. /Reuters-Newsis

Jang rose to power after the death of former leader Kim Jong-il in December 2011, taking key posts in the party, the National Defense Commission, and other organizations.

The husband of Kim Jong-il's sister Kim Kyong-hui, he was widely seen as the puppet master behind new and untested leader Kim Jong-un. If Jang was sacked, it would be the latest move in what appears to be an attempt by Kim junior to cement his grip on power and get rid of the old guard.

Kim Yong-hyun at Dongguk University said Jang's sacking was a "strategic move to complete Kim's control."

Other experts said Jang's ouster may have been the result of a power struggle with Politburo chief Choe Ryong-hae or between the party and the military, which could lead to political instability.

Lim Eul-chul at Kyungnam University said the sacking of a figure as senior as Jang signifies a "breakdown in power" and the North Korean leader could find himself in a "difficult situation."

Experts also voiced concerns that the ouster of Jang, who was considered dovish and in favor of economic reform, could throw the North back on a hardline track.

The government here has been briefed about the alleged sacking and is preparing for any fallout. But a government official said there are "no immediate signs of major changes in the North" and urged calm, but added that a "huge uncertainty" has been added to the mix.

englishnews@chosun.com / Dec. 04, 2013 10:31 KST

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