North Korea army chief dismissal signals 'possible purge'

Signs of internal power struggle, experts say

North Korea army chief dismissal signals 'possible purge'

(ANSA) - Rome, July 16 - The chief of North Korea's military has been dismissed due to "illness", according to the country's official news agency Monday. Ri Yong Ho, who had been army chief since 2009, has been removed from all of his posts, which also included membership in the presidium of the ruling Workers Party. His surprise departure has triggered rumours of a possible purge within the military of the reclusive Communist country. Ri is believed to have been close to President Kim Jong Un and a supporter during the young leader's transition to power after the death of his father Kim Jong Il last December. North Korean experts say that Ri's dismissal could indicate an internal power struggle as Kim consolidates his grip on the military. Ri's firing appears "to follow a script that we have seen unfold since last March," North Korea expert Andrei Lankov told CNN. Lankov teaches at the University of Soeul. Lankov said members of the ruling elite connected to Jang Song Taek, Kim Jong Un's uncle by marriage, seem to be on the rise. Jang is the husband of the late dictator's sister, Kim Kyong Hui. Jang and his wife, both 66 years old, are thought to have a strong influence over the new "supreme leader" who is in his late 20's. Jang, considered reformist, had disappeared from the ruling scene for a few years before returning to prominence in the last months of Kim Jong Il's life. Jang is thought to favor a gradual transformation of the society away from its current, militaristic, Stalinist logic toward the Chinese model of cautious opening toward private enterprise and foreign investment, while keeping the Workers' Party grip on political life. The deceased dictator appointed Ri to the head of the army in order to balance the growing influence of Jang, according to North Korea expert Pail Hak Soon. The young leader Kim has sent a number of signals in recent weeks that indicate an inclination toward change. Ignoring a taboo of the previous generation, he staged a spectacle with dancers dressed as Disney characters, and has appeared a number of times with a mystery woman by his side. Experts believe the woman is a pop singer with whom Kim is developing sentimental ties.

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