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North Korea Purges Kim Jung Un’s Uncle for ‘Depraved Lifestyle’

JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images(BEIJING) -- North Korea confirmed a major shakeup Monday in top leadership with its purge of Kim Jong Un’s uncle, who was accused of drug abuse, improper relations with women and living a “capitalist lifestyle.”

The news comes just as the reclusive country’s neighbor, South Korea, announced on Sunday an expansion of its own Air Defense Identification Zone. Seoul’s new ADIZ now overlaps with airspace claimed by both Japan and China.  Vice President Joe Biden “conferred,” according to a statement from the State Department, with South Korea on the expansion before the announcement.  China has yet to respond.

In North Korea, the shakeup revolves around the ouster of Jang Song Thaek, seen by many as the second most powerful man in the country.  His fall weaves a dramatic tale of family loyalties and the harsh nature of political survival in the secretive regime.

Jang is Kim’s uncle, married to Kim Kyong-hee, the only full sibling of former leader Kim Jong Il.

Jang has long served the government.  But in 2004, Kim Jong Il, the current leader’s father, had him purged. Perhaps, because he started to establish himself as a liberal, willing -- even seeking -- to engage with those outside the border on a range of issues. 

According to New Focus International, which tracks North Korea, Jang “attempted personal diplomacy with the outside world.”  Still, he was later brought back into the fold to help groom Kim Jong Un for power.

In the two years since his father’s death, Kim Jong Un kept him close, installing him in powerful positions including on the Central Military Commission and the National Defense Commission.  But like his father and grandfather before him, Kim Jong Un has spent his first two years as leader consolidating loyalties, getting rid of those who threaten him and their deputies.

On Sunday, Kim Jong Un presided over a special meeting of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee, which made Jang’s dismissal official.

State run news broadcast the accusations against him, saying Jang was “soaked with the capitalist lifestyle” and “led a dissolute and depraved life…had improper relations with several women…[and was] wined and dined at the back parlors of deluxe restaurants.” He was also accused of “acts of treachery” including involvement in selling of “precious resources” to China at cheap prices.

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