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NK leader's powerbroker uncle ousted: SK

SEOUL -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's uncle, seen as the hard-line regime's political regent, has apparently been purged and two associates executed, South Korea's spy agency said Tuesday nearly two years after the young supremo came to power.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) told a parliamentary committee that it believed Jang Song Thaek had been removed from all posts, including vice chairman of the communist country's top military body, the National Defense Commission.

If confirmed, Jang's ouster would mark the most significant purge at the top of the North Korean leadership since Kim Jong Un succeeded his late father Kim Jong Il in December 2011.

According to the NIS briefing, Jang was “recently ousted from his position and two of his close confidantes — Ri Yong Ha and Jang Soo Kil — were publicly executed in mid-November,” lawmaker Jung Cheong-rae told reporters.

North Korean military personnel had been notified of the executions, Jung said, adding that Jang, 67, had since “disappeared.”

The husband of Kim Jong Il's powerful sister, Kim Kyong Hui, Jang was seen as instrumental in cementing Kim Jong Un's hold on power in the tricky transition period after his father's death.

He was often referred to as the unofficial number two in the hierarchy and the real power behind the throne of Kim, who is aged around 30.

“I can only guess that the roles played by Jang have caused some tension in the process of consolidating Kim Jong Un's power,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University.

“Jang once visited South Korea and witnessed many aspects of capitalist society, including the changes that have been happening in China.

“So he was the figure who was most likely to aggressively push for some reforms and opening of the North's system,” Kim said.

Several analysts suggested Jang may have lost out in a power struggle with Choe Ryong Hae, a close Kim Jong Un confidant who holds the military rank of vice marshal and is director of the Korean People's Army's General Political Department.

In May, Kim sent Choe as his personal envoy to Beijing to hand-deliver a letter to China's new president, Xi Jinping.

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A South Korean man watches TV news about the alleged dismissal of Jang Song Thaek, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's uncle, at a railway station in Seoul on Tuesday, Dec. 3. (AFP)

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