SEOUL — North Korea announced Friday that it had executed the uncle of leader Kim Jong Un, calling him a ‘‘traitor for all ages’’ who opposed Kim’s rule and plotted his overthrow.
Jang Song Thaek was executed after admitting to his crimes before a military tribunal Thursday, the North said in a statement released by the state-run news agency. The North said Jang, in attempting to realize his ‘‘wild ambition’’ of supreme power, was ‘‘despicable human scum’’ and ‘‘worse than a dog.’’
Jang’s execution comes days after he was stripped of all his positions and removed from Kim’s small inner circle of advisers. The purge, documented by the North with unusual detail, marks the most significant leadership change since Kim took power of the nuclear-armed nation two years ago and suggests that he is willing to publicly go after rivals in ways that his more secretive father never did.
In recent days, the North had accused Jang of everything from graft to gambling to womanizing. But the North’s account Friday narrowed to a more serious charge, saying that Jang had contested the country’s system of passing power from father to son. In 65 years of Kim family rule, never has the North so explicitly described high-level dissent.
The North said Jang, a lifelong politician, had quietly followed marching orders under the nation’s founder, Kim Il Sung, and his son Kim Jong Il. But after Kim Jong Il’s death in December 2011, Jang made his move, ‘‘overtly and covertly standing in the way’’ of the succession, the statement said.
Little is known about Kim Jong Un, who is thought to be 30 years old. But analysts say that compared with his father and grandfather, he has consolidated power far more quickly and done so in a manner that is much more openly confrontational. Although North Korea has always been known for its purges, executions have been traditionally ordered only for lower-level functionaries. Over the past few decades, high-level officials who have fallen out of favor with the Kims have been sent into the countryside and placed under house arrest, according to accounts from rights groups and defectors. The purges have almost always been done in secret.
On Friday morning, the state newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, released photos of Jang in the courtroom, head bowed and flanked by two security guards. The US State Department said Jang’s execution, if confirmed, ‘‘is another example of the extreme brutality of the North Korean regime.’’
‘‘We are in absolutely uncharted territory,’’ said Andrei Lankov, an expert on North Korean affairs at Kookmin University in Seoul, adding: ‘‘Kim Jong Un has changed the rules of the game. He’s willing to purge the leaders closest to him, and quite publicly. . . . He seems to be far more ruthless than his father. Kim Jong Un is more inclined to kill, and he seems more impulsive and emotional.’’
Now Kim has only one other family member who holds a position of power — Kim Kyong Hui, his aunt. Analysts have said for years that she has a drinking problem and needs frequent medical attention.