North Korea issues photo of Kim Jong-un's uncle being detained as execution rumours abound
High-profile former ally Jang Song-thaek is seized by guards at meeting in Pyongyang as young leader looks to squash dissent among ruling elite
Agencies in Seoul and Kristine Kwok
North Korea confirmed yesterday that the powerful uncle of young leader Kim Jong-un has been purged.
State television broadcast humiliating pictures of Jang Song-thaek being dragged from his chair by uniformed officers during a meeting in Pyongyang.
The official Korean Central News Agency accused Jang of taking drugs and squandering money at casinos while having medical treatment abroad.
The agency also said he had "improper relations with several women and was wined and dined in the back parlours of deluxe restaurants".
The agency said the decision to purge him was taken on Sunday at a high-level meeting of the ruling Workers' Party attended by Kim.
It said the purge would extend to supporters of Jang, but did not provide details.
Watch: Kim Jong-Un cements his power with purge of uncle: expert
Jang is married to Kim's aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, the younger sister of former leader Kim Jong-il. Jang rose in the party and military ranks alongside his baby-faced nephew.
He was often seen in a white general's uniform and standing within arm's length of Kim on field visits and at state events.
South Korean media with access to North Korean television reported that footage of Jang has also been edited out of propaganda documentaries.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the move could spark a sweeping purge targeting those loyal to Jang.
"There will be a storm of purge across the country... so Kim Jong-un becomes the one and only centre of power, challenged by no one," he said.
Kim has reportedly overseen other purges of senior officials, though none as high profile as this one. One of the most notable was last year's firing of military chief Ri Yong-ho.
He was dismissed in July due to an unspecified illness, but analysts speculated that Ri was purged because Kim wanted to reshape the power structure.
Jang had close ties to China and visited Beijing last year on Kim's behalf.
He was also head of the North Korean side of a joint project managing a special economic zone with Beijing.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei described the events as the "internal affair" of its neighbour.
Cui Zhiying , director of Tongji University's Korean Peninsular Research Centre, said Jang's purge indicated that Kim had consolidated his power.
"This kind of high-profile purge is quite unusual. It would only happen in China during the Cultural Revolution, but not now," Cui said.
Last week, South Korea's spy agency gave the first public word that Jang may have been dismissed. It also said his two closest confidants were executed, but that has not been confirmed.
Reuters, Associated PressAgence France-Presse