July 01, 2021 12:57
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has fired several senior officials for causing a "crisis" in the fight against coronavirus. They included a member of the top standing committee of the politburo, which only has five members including Kim himself.
The drastic action suggests either that there has been a major outbreak or that Kim is trying to deflect attention from his self-inflicted food crisis.
The state-run Rodong Sinmun daily reported that Kim chaired an extended party meeting and quoted him as saying, "In neglecting important decisions by the party that called for organizational, material and science and technological measures to support prolonged anti-epidemic work in face of a global health crisis, the officials in charge have caused a grave incident that created a huge crisis for the safety of the country and its people."
It gave no details of the incident or the decision they allegedly neglected.
North Korea officially claims that there have been no COVID-19 cases in the country so far. The rebuke has sparked speculation that quarantine has been breached on the border with China, which was sealed at the start of the pandemic.
Earlier this month, Kim admitted that the North is suffering from a food shortage and called on officials to brace themselves for a prolonged lockdown by tapping into the military's emergency food reserves.
Kim In-tae at the Institute for National Security Strategy speculated, "The strong rebuke and punitive measures could have been taken because the military failed to implement those orders."
That would tally with speculation that the standing committee member who was sacked is Ri Pyong-chol, a marshal in the People's Army who is the second-highest military official.
A photo in the Rodong Sinmum shows top politburo members raising their hands to vote, while Ri is the only one looking the other way with his hand raised only halfway.
But Kim may also have sacked Premier Kim Tok-hun, who is nominally in charge of the economy and was missing in a photo of officials at the extended meeting.
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