NKorea claims strength after removal of "filth"
In this image taken from video made available on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers an annual New Year's Day message in Pyongyang, North Korea. Kim boasted Wednesday that North Korea enters the new year on a surge of strength because of the elimination of "factionalist filth" - a reference to the young leader's once powerful uncle, whose execution last month raised questions about Kim's grip on power. (AP Photo/KRT via AP Video) TV OUT, NORTH KOREA OUT
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Kim Jong Un boasted Wednesday that North Korea enters the new year on a surge of strength because of the elimination of "factionalist filth" — a reference to the young leader's once powerful uncle, whose execution last month raised questions about Kim's grip on power.
Kim's comments in an annual New Year's Day message, which included a call for improved ties with Seoul but also a warning of a possible "nuclear catastrophe," will be scrutinized by outside analysts and governments for clues about the opaque country's intentions and policy goals.
Already widespread worry about the country has deepened since Kim publicly humiliated and then executed his uncle and mentor, one of the biggest political developments in Pyongyang in years, and certainly since Kim took power two years ago after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.
North Korea's "resolute" action to "eliminate factionalist filth" within the ruling Workers' Party has bolstered the country's unity "by 100 times," Kim said in a speech broadcast by state TV. He didn't mention by name his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, long considered the country's No. 2 power.
But Kim included rhetoric that some analysts saw as a first step to renewing dialogue with rival Seoul. Kim called for an improvement in strained ties with South Korea, saying it's time for each side to stop slandering the other and urging Seoul to listen to voices calling for Korean unification.
That language, which is similar to that of past New Year's messages, is an obvious improvement on last year's threats of nuclear war, though there is still skepticism in Washington and Seoul about Pyongyang's intentions.
North Korea's authoritarian, secretive government is extremely difficult for outsiders to interpret, and analysts are divided about the meaning of Jang's execution on treason charges. Many, however, believe that the purge shows Kim Jong Un struggling to establish the same absolute power that his father and grandfather enjoyed.
The public announcement of Jang's fall opened up a rare and unfavorable window on the country's inner workings, showing an alleged power struggle between Kim and his uncle after the 2011 death of Kim Jong Il.
Jang's public downfall was seen as an acknowledgement of dissension and loss of control by the ruling Kim dynasty. That has caused outside alarm as Kim Jong Un simultaneously tries to revive a moribund economy and pushes development of nuclear-armed missiles.
Seoul worries that instability could lead to provocations meant to help consolidate internal unity. Attacks blamed on North Korea killed 50 South Koreans in 2010, and tension on the Korean Peninsula still lingers, although Pyongyang has backed away from war rhetoric from early last year that included threats of nuclear attacks against Washington and Seoul.