North Korea accused of ‘reign of terror’ over shock purge
South Korea accuses Kim Jong-un of waging a ‘reign of terror’ after the shock purge of his uncle Jang Song-thaek
North Korea’s state media on Tuesday sought to whip up public support for the shock purge of leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle and former mentor, as South Korea accused Kim of waging a “reign of terror”.
The North confirmed on Monday that Jang Song-thaek – seen as Kim’s political regent and the country’s unofficial number two – had been stripped of all posts and titles, accusing him of corruption and building a rival power base.
State TV showed photos of Jang being dragged out of his seat at a meeting by two officers, in an extremely rare public humiliation of a figure who has now been demonised as a drug-taking womaniser.
The official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said citizens angered by Jang’s alleged crimes, which have been laid out in unusual detail, vowed to “burn Jang to death” or “cut his throat”.
“Those miscreants who sought to ruin our unity deserve a divine punishment ... I want to throw Jang and his group into boiling water,” it quoted Ri Yong-song, a thermal power plant worker in Pyongyang, as saying.
The newspaper, in an article titled “Merciless iron hammers for anti-party elements!” also quoted a machinery plant worker who described Jang and his faction as “human trash” who were “worse than animals”.
The paper published a full front-page editorial that called for unity under Kim Jong-un, who has ruled since his father Kim Jong-il died in December 2011, warning that North Korea would “never forgive any traitors”.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Tuesday accused the young leader of resorting to extreme violence to cement his leadership.
“North Korea is now engaged in a reign of terror while carrying out a massive purge to consolidate the power of Kim Jong-un,” she told a cabinet meeting, according to her office.
Park said that cross-border relations could now become even shakier.
“The situation on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia is rapidly changing, and we cannot lower our guard against North Korean threats and changes in its political situation,” she said.
Speculation over Jang’s fate
Jang, along with his unnamed associates, was accused of a litany of crimes at a party meeting on Sunday, including hindering the North’s state-run production of resources, including iron and fertilisers, by selling them off too cheaply.
The Kim family has ruled the North for six decades with an iron fist, regularly purging those showing the slightest sign of dissent. Most are executed or sent to prison camps.
Analysts warn Jang’s ouster – the biggest political upheaval since Jong-un took power – may cause significant instability even in the world’s most tightly controlled nation.
Chosun Sinbo, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper based in Japan, addressed those fears, saying the North’s public “fully supports the party’s decision”.
“There is no change in people’s lives,” it said. “Now a sigh of relief is spreading among workers at state bodies related to economy and fertiliser production after those who disrupted their businesses have been purged.”
Jang, who is married to the sister of the late Kim Jong-il, played a key role in cementing the leadership of the inexperienced Jong-un.
But analysts say the 67-year-old’s power and influence had become increasingly resented by his nephew, who is aged around 30.
The North did not say what type of punishment Jang will face. Ryoo Kihl-jae, Seoul’s representative for North Korea affairs, said last week it appeared that Jang was “not in any physical danger”.
But he could soon be slapped a term at a prison camp given the serious charges laid against him, said an official of the South’s unification ministry.
“Most of those who were accused of anti-party, counter-revolutionary acts (like Jang) received punishments that left them unable to live normally, at least (a term at) prison camps,” said the official, who declined to be named.
One Seoul-based news radio station run by North Korean defectors claimed Jang had already been executed last Thursday, and that the latest photos of him had been forged.
But the official rejected the claim, saying Seoul saw no trace of doctored imagery in the photos.
“I think Jang is probably in a detention centre at the moment and will be sent to a prison camp once investigations on his charges are completed,” said Hong Hyun-ik, an analyst at South Korea’s Sejong Institute.