Kim Jong-un purges 10 officials for watching S. Korean soaps

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un arrives for the opening ceremony of the Cemetery of Fallen Fighters of the Korean People's Army (KPA) in Pyongyang July 25, 2013. — Reuters pic
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un arrives for the opening ceremony of the Cemetery of Fallen Fighters of the Korean People's Army (KPA) in Pyongyang July 25, 2013. — Reuters pic

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PYONGYANG, Oct 28 — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un purged about 10 officials of his ruling Workers’ Party for watching South Korean soap operas, Yonhap News reported, without specifying what or when the action was taken.

Kim, who returned to the public gaze this month after six weeks out of view, had a cyst removed from his right ankle in September or October, Yonhap said yesterday, citing two South Korean lawmakers who attended a briefing by the nation’s intelligence service. A foreign doctor invited to the isolated nation performed the surgery, the news agency said, adding that the condition could recur due to Kim’s obesity.

North Korea has expanded prison camps and increased public executions, with about 50 people executed this year by firing squad, Yonhap said. The isolated nation has also demoted army executives, including an army commander for the low accuracy rate of the nation’s artillery.

Kim exercises dynastic control over the North’s 1.2-million troops and nuclear arms programme, and his period of seclusion prompted speculation about his health and grip on power. Yonhap said Kim is continuing to clear up the “vestiges” of Jang Song Thaek, his uncle and de facto deputy that he executed on charges of factionalism and graft in December last year.

“Kim Jong-un is trying to establish absolute power and strengthen his regime with public punishments” Yang Moo Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said by phone. “However, frequent purges can create side effects.”

‘Mercilessly destroy’

On taking office, Kim consolidated power by purging senior officials, including the removal in July 2012 of Chief of the General Staff Ri Yong Ho, who guided him in the succession process. Kim is believed to be about 30.

In June, North Korea pledged to “mercilessly destroy” anyone associated with an unidentified Western action-comedy movie that depicts an attempt to assassinate Kim. The plot matches “The Interview,” starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, which tells the story of two celebrity journalists who secure an interview with Kim, prompting the Central Intelligence Agency to recruit them as assassins.

Even so, Kim is a fan of some western culture. In 2012, state television showed him with a crew of clapping generals watching a performance by a band dressed as Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Minnie Mouse and other characters. The nation put on an international film festival in Pyongyang in September.

Kim has also made clear his enthusiasm for sports. Last year, he invited former US basketball star Dennis Rodman to watch a basketball game together. — Bloomberg

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