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Analysis

North Korea strengthening reign of terror

SEOUL — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is expected to strengthen his reign of terror for the time being to tighten discipline among power elites following the ouster of his once-powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek.

In an unusual move on Monday, Pyongyang's state television showed Jang, once dubbed the No. 2 man in the North, being arrested for "anti-party, counter-revolutionary activities" during a meeting of the ruling Workers' Party.

Analysts argued that the TV scene foreshadowed more purges and tougher disciplinary action to solidify Kim's dictatorial governance. Jang's ouster came as a shock as many observers were skeptical about his downfall given the enormous clout he had accumulated in the party, military and government over four decades.

"Jang has installed his associates in many areas of the country. For the time being, those in the party, government and military, who are directly or indirectly connected to Jang, would be purged," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

"Amid these purges, state control over power elites and his reign of terror are likely to be strengthened."

President Park Geun-hye on Tuesday expressed concerns that with the North Korean leader resorting to a coercive means of state governance, inter-Korean relations could become more unstable.

"While carrying out a large-scale purge (of officials) for the purpose of consolidating Kim Jong-un's power, the North is exercising a reign of terror. The inter-Korean ties could become shakier," she said during a Cabinet meeting at Cheong Wa Dae.

"At this time, the duty of the state and politicians representing the people is to safeguard the safety of our citizens and free democracy."

Amid growing signs of Kim's push for a stronger grip on power, Pyongyang's state media issued a series of articles and editorials that stressed Kim's absolute power and the public unity behind him.

"Party members, troops of the People's Army and the people should conscientiously uphold Kim's leadership with absolute loyalty to Honorable Kim's ideology and policy line," the Rodong Sinmun, the daily of the Workers' Party, said in an editorial Tuesday.

"We should rally and rally and rally ourselves behind Kim, and vehemently uphold the absolute leadership of the party."

Kim's autocratic disposition was also revealed in the recent increase in the number of purges and executions. According to Seoul's intelligence officials, the number of those openly executed was around 40 - far more than the 17 recorded last year.

"Under Kim's reign of power, executions have taken place to warn (against any disloyalty)," Nam Jae-joon, the director of Seoul's National Intelligence Service, recently told a parliamentary session.

"(Executions) could also be designed to avoid internal discontent, and Kim Jong-un is likely to push to expand his power by creating an atmosphere that calls for blind obedience to him."

Some analysts argue that a recently forged climate of fear in the North was not new given that the North Korean leader has used a mixture of coercion and incentives to maintain the dynastic ruling system.

"The recent sense of terror in the North cannot be seen as any notable change in Kim's governing style given that Kim has used both coercive and friendly measures to control the elites," said Chang Yong-seok, an analyst at the Institute of Peace and Unification Studies affiliated with Seoul National University.

"The use of terror at this juncture appears to be inevitable for the time being as a follow-up measure to handle the aftermath of Jang's dismissal. But it is not new at all for a dictator to strengthen his control over elites in this manner."

The analyst added that a feeling of terror in the North Korean leadership could dim the prospect of the reclusive regime moving toward reform and openness.

"As the country's coercive organs strengthen in the process of purges and executions, concerns are growing that the mood for creative ideas toward reform could be dampened," said Chang.
 

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