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Images Appear To Confirm Removal Of Top North Korean Official

We told you last week about a report from North Korea that an uncle of Kim Jong Un, the country's leader, was dismissed from a key defense post.

The uncle in question is Jang Song Thaek, who is married to the sister of Kim's late father, Kim Jong Il. As NPR's Scott Neuman noted, there have been previous reports of Jang's dismissal only for him to be back in power, apparently rehabilitated. Well, not this time — or so it would seem.

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency has broadcast images of uniformed guards escorting Jang from a Communist Party session. Here is one of those images:

The Associated Press points out that Kim could be sending a message by purging his own uncle.

"While the rest of North Korea's top brass leaped to their feet before Kim Jong Un, clapping wildly in a requisite show of respect at high-level meetings, his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, often seemed nonchalant, at times even bored. Once considered the force behind the young leader, he displayed a bold insouciance that seemed calculated to show he was beyond reach.

"So by purging his own uncle, Kim has delivered a more chilling message: No one is beyond reach, not even family.

"Jang's fall from grace, accompanied by allegations from corruption to womanizing and capped by his dramatic arrest at a party meeting Sunday, has no doubt spooked Pyongyang's elite. It also suggests Kim is still trying to consolidate the power he inherited from his father two years ago.

"This is far from Kim's first purge. Several defense ministers and army chiefs have been replaced as the Workers' Party has asserted control over the military after 17 years of military-first rule under late leader Kim Jong Il.

But it is the ouster of Jang, who had been considered North Korea's second-most-powerful figure, that sends the strongest signal to anyone seeking to challenge Kim Jong Un."

Jang, until recently, was seen as close to Kim Jong Un and was seen in many photographs with his nephew, such as the one below:

In July, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (second left) is flanked by top advisers, including his uncle Jang Song Thaek, at far right in white uniform.
Wong Maye-E / AP
In July, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (second left) is flanked by top advisers, including his uncle Jang Song Thaek, at far right in white uniform.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that Jang was dismissed from all posts for trying to "form his own faction within the ruling party." It cited the north's official KCNA. Here's more:

"The party's political bureau also alleged that Jang, who had held several senior positions in the government, abused his power and had improper relations with several women, abused drugs and squandered foreign currency at casinos while receiving medical treatment abroad."

Yonhap reported that Yang's whereabouts are unclear, but that he could be sent to a political prison camp.

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Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.