Seoul - North Korea confirmed on Monday that the powerful uncle of young leader Kim Jong-Un has been purged, with state TV airing humiliating images of Jang Song-Thaek being dragged away by uniformed officers.
The official news agency KCNA accused the man once seen as the power behind the throne of being a corrupt, drug-taking womaniser bent on building his own faction in the ruling party.
One South Korean analyst predicted a sweeping purge would follow, leaving Kim as the undisputed centre of power.
KCNA said Jang, once seen as his nephew's mentor, had been stripped of all his posts and of party membership for committing criminal acts and leading a “counter-revolutionary faction”.
It said the decision was taken on Sunday at a high-level meeting of the ruling Workers' Party attended by Kim.
State TV on Monday showed photos of Jang being dragged out of his seat at a meeting by two officers - an extremely rare publication of humiliating images involving a senior official.
It was not certain if the incident happened at Sunday's meeting. But the TV aired other photos from Sunday showing a stony-faced Kim sitting at the podium with other top officials.
Analysts said Jang's main role had been to ensure a smooth transition after the inexperienced Kim Jong-Un came to power following the death of his father Kim Jong-Il in December 2011.
But they said Jang had become increasingly resented by the leader, who is aged about 30.
“Jong-Un has built a solid power base for the past two years, and he no longer needed a regent who appeared to be increasingly powerful and threatening,” said Paik Hak-Soon, a researcher at the South's Sejong Institute think tank.
South Korea's spy agency said last week that Jang had apparently been purged and two associates executed, in the secretive nation's biggest political upheaval since the death of Kim Jong-Il.
KCNA said the meeting on Sunday confirmed it had “eliminated Jang and purged his group, unable to remain an onlooker to its acts any longer”.
The regime said it removed Jang and his associates for trying to build a faction within the party, and for appointing his followers to top positions to serve his own political ends.
The KCNA report said Jang “had improper relations with several women and was wined and dined at back parlours of deluxe restaurants”, becoming “affected by the capitalist way of living”.
“Ideologically sick and extremely idle and easy-going, he used drugs and squandered foreign currency at casinos while he was receiving medical treatment in a foreign country under the care of the party,” it said.
Jang was also accused of hindering North Korea's state-run production of iron, fertilisers and vinalon - a home-made synthetic fibre - by selling off resources at cheap prices and “throwing the state financial management system into confusion”.
Kim Jong-Un's takeover was the second dynastic succession in the family that has ruled the isolated nuclear-armed state since 1948 through a pervasive personality cult and with an iron fist.
Jang has fallen out of favour before. In 2004 he was understood to have undergone “re-education” as a steel mill labourer because of suspected corruption, but he made a comeback the following year.
Jang expanded his influence rapidly after Kim Jong-Il suffered a stroke in 2008, leaving his health impaired.
He was appointed vice chairman of the nation's top body, the National Defence Commission, in 2010.
His wife Kim Kyong-Hui, who is Kim Jong-Il's sister, has also long been at the centre of power. She was promoted to four-star general at the same time as Kim Jong-Un in 2010.
The pair were once viewed as the ultimate power couple in Pyongyang. But in the past year Kim Kyong-Hui has been less visible, with reports that she was seriously ill and had sought hospital treatment in Singapore.
“This time, Jang is gone for good. He'll never be allowed into politics again,” said Paik from the Sejong Institute.
Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the move could spark a sweeping purge targeting those loyal to Jang.
“There will be a storm of purge across the country... so Kim Jong-Un becomes the one and only centre of power, challenged by no one,” he said.
Jang had for decades forged an extensive network of friends in the party and the government, said Kim Kwang-Jin, analyst at the Institute for National Security Strategy and a defector who once worked under Jang handling party finances.
“After two of his associates were executed, now the next target will be those who used to be working at state bodies once supervised by Jang,” Kim said, citing the police agency and state bodies related to finance and the economy.
“This is a very serious and grave situation,” Kim said.
Ji Jae-Ryong, the North's ambassador to China who is known to be a close friend of Jang, is also a potential target of the purge, said Cheong Seong-Chang, another analyst at the Sejong Institute.
North and South Korea have remained technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict ended with just an armistice and no peace treaty.
Seoul was “closely monitoring” the situation in the North, said unification ministry spokesman Kim Eui-Do.