The purge and death of Jang Song-thaek, uncle of North leader Kim Jong-un, shows a surprising and public power struggle in North Korea.
Jang Song-thaek served as a mentor to his nephew when he came to power just two years ago. Downing Street described the execution as an example of the regime’s “extreme brutality.”
But on Monday the politician and army general was dragged out of a government meeting and accused of plotting against Kim Jong-un’s leadership. TV images showed him handcuffed and standing trial before a special military tribunal.
Reports from South Korea’s national assembly intelligence committee say he was executed by machine gun. Two of his aides were tried and executed in the same way earlier this week.
North Korean state media KCNA said that Jang “had a dirty political ambition” and pleaded guilty to the charges. The KCNA described Jang as “despicable human scum” and elaborated on his sentencing:
“The decision served as sledge-hammer blow brought down by our angry service personnel and people on the head of Jang.”
According to other reports from South Korea Jang was also charged with offences relating to the state of North Korea’s economy including “scheming to drive the economy of the country into an uncontrollable catastrophe.”
He was also condemned for a range of offences including pornography, womanising, and alcohol abuse.
The very swift fall from grace is seen by some as a sign of weakness in Kim Jong-un’s leadership – an urgent need to quell dissent. The focus on Jang’s work on the economy could be an attempt to shift blame for the extreme economic hardships that many North Koreans face. A level of poverty that could be starting to destabilise Kim Jong-un’s three generation family dynasty.
“They should be torn up and thrown into the rubbish bin of history” Pyongyang resident
But in the streets of the capital city Pyongyang, residents toed the party line on the deposed politician: “He’s like an enemy who dares to be crazy enough to take over power from our party and our leader (Kim Jong-Un),” Pak Chang Gil told AP.
“And look how much harm he did to the people’s lives. He got what he deserved.”
Another, Ri Chol Ho, said: “For this group of traitors who were going to destroy our single-hearted unity, execution is too lenient. They should be torn up and thrown into the rubbish bin of history.”
Jang was married to Kim’s aunt, and was a general in the North Korean army.
The South Korean president has already voiced concern that it may lead to a deterioration in relations between the North and South.
“North Korea is currently carrying out a reign of terror, undertaking a large-scale purge in order to strengthen Kim Jong Un’s power,” President President Park Geun-hye told a cabinent meeting, part of which was broadcast on television.
“From now one, South-North Korea relations may become more unstable.”