The purging and execution of Jang Song Thaek on Friday was the
biggest upheaval in years in North Korea, which has conducted three
nuclear tests and this year raised the possibility of nuclear war
with South Korea and the United States.
Jang was married to Kim Kyong Hui, a daughter of state founder Kim
Il Sung and sister of the country's second leader, Kim Jong Il. She
is an aunt of current leader Kim Jong Un, the third Kim to rule.
North Korea's KCNA news agency said last week Jang had been executed
for trying to seize power and for driving the economy "into an
On Tuesday, his wife did not appear at a ceremony marking the second
anniversary of the death of her brother, North Korea's second
leader, Kim Jong Il.
Together, she and Jang had been considered the "Pyongyang power
couple", the real force behind the North Korean leadership, before
Jang was labeled a traitor and executed.
Kim Kyong Hui usually features prominently at important North Korean
events alongside her nephew, the young new leader, Kim Jong Un, and
other members of the North Korean elite.
North Korean state media did not say why she was absent from the
commemoration at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, in the capital,
Political leaders, including Kim Jong Un and his wife, paid respects
to the late Kim Jong Il, whose embalmed body lies in a glass coffin
in the palace.
Kim Kyong Hui has been absent from such events in the past, stoking
speculation that she was ill, only to reappear later.
OUT WITH THE OLD
Earlier in the day, the political and military elite publicly
pledged their loyalty to Kim Jong Un at the memorial gathering, less
than a week after the young leader ordered the execution of the
powerful family ally, Jang.
The young Kim was the center of attention at the gathering with
state television showed him sitting center stage beneath a big red
mural of a flag emblazoned with a picture of his smiling father.
Kim, believed to be about 30, took over when his father died in
Cheong Seong-jang, an analyst at the Sejong institute, a Seoul-based
think tank, said by getting rid of his uncle, Jang, the young Kim
had consolidated his position.
"By eliminating the only other faction, the power in North Korea is
now fully concentrated on Kim Jong Un," Cheong said.
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Since taking over as leader, the young Kim has followed his father's
program by ordering the North's third nuclear test and successfully
launching a long-range rocket in the face of increasingly tight U.N.
Jang was the only leadership figure who may have posed any real
threat to him.
While North Korea has purged many officials in its 65-year history,
it is rare that anyone as powerful as Jang has been removed so
publicly — suggesting a recognition of internal divisions and
competing factions around Kim Jong Un.
The young Kim has removed most of Pyongyang's old guard during his
comparatively short rule, replacing ageing generals and cadres with
figures closer to his age.
He has changed his Korean People's Army (KPA) chief of staff four
times. The job changed hands three times during his father's 17
years in power.
Choe Ryong Hae, a party apparatchik who has been around the Kim
family for decades but had kept out of the limelight until three
years ago, now appears to be the most influential adviser to Kim
On Monday, Choe addressed a gathering of soldiers outside the
Kumsusan Memorial Palace, stressing the army's unswerving loyalty to
the young Kim.
"It will always remain the army of Kim Jong Un defending him unto
death and upholding his leadership only," an official KCNA news
agency dispatch quoted Choe as saying.
(Additional reporting by Jumin Park and Sohee Kim;
editing by Paul Tait and Robert Birsel)
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