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PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — The execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's uncle brought a swift and violent end to a man long considered the country's second-most powerful. But while Jang Song Thaek is now gone, the fallout from his bloody purge is not over.

In a stunning reversal of the popular image of Jang as a mentor and father figure guiding young Kim Jong Un as he consolidated power, North Korea's state-run media on Friday announced he had been executed and portrayed him as a morally corrupt traitor who saw the death of Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, in December 2011 as an opportunity to make his own power play.

Experts who study the authoritarian country, which closely guards its internal workings from both outsiders and citizens, were divided on whether the sudden turn of events reflected turmoil within the highest levels of power or signaled that Kim Jong Un was consolidating his power in a decisive show of strength. Either way, the purge is an unsettling development for a world that is already wary of Kim's unpredictability amid North Korea's attempts to develop nuclear weapons.

"If he has to go as high as purging and then executing Jang, it tells you that everything's not normal," said Victor Cha, a former senior White House adviser on Asia.

The first appearance of the new narrative came out just days ago, when North Korea accused Jang, 67, of corruption, womanizing, gambling and taking drugs. It said he'd been eliminated from all his posts. Friday's allegations heaped on claims that he tried "to overthrow the state by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods with a wild ambition to grab the supreme power of our party and state."

"He dared not raise his head when Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il were alive," it said, referring to the country's first leader and his son. But after Kim Jong Il's death, it claimed, Jang saw his chance to challenge Kim Jong Un and realize his "long-cherished goal, greed for power."

The purge also could spread and bring down more people, Cha said. "When you take out Jang, you're not taking out just one person — you're taking out scores if not hundreds of other people in the system. It's got to have some ripple effect."

South Korean intelligence officials say two of Jang's closest aides have already been executed last month.

Narushige Michishita, a security expert at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, suggested that Jang's removal shows "that Kim Jong Un has the guts to hold onto power, and this might have shown his will to power, his willingness to get rid of anything that stands in his way."

One of the biggest opportunities for the world to see what may happen next will come on Dec. 17, which is the second anniversary of Kim Jong Il's death. North Korea watchers will be closely following whether Jang's wife, Kim Kyong Hui, the younger sister of Kim Jong Il, and other figures are present in the official ceremonies marking the day.

News of Jang Song Thaek's execution was trumpeted across the nation by North Korea's state media — with unusually vitriolic outbursts on TV, radio and in the main newspaper — as a triumph of Kim Jong Un and the ruling party over a traitor "worse than a dog" who was bent on overthrowing the government.

Pyongyang residents crowded around newspapers posted at the capital's main subway station to read the story. State media said Jang was tried for treason by a special military tribunal and executed Thursday.

"He's like an enemy who dares to be crazy enough to take over power from our party and our leader," said Pak Chang Gil, echoing the media's official line. "He got what he deserved."

That's a long way from the popular perception that "Uncle Jang" was nurturing his nephew as a regent appointed by Kim Jong Il. Jang was seen prominently by Kim Jong Un's side as he walked by his father's hearse during his 2011 funeral. He was also a fixture at the new leader's side as he toured the country.

The KCNA report was unusually specific in its accusations. In particular, it criticized Jang for not rising and applauding his nephew's appointment to a senior position because Jang "thought that if Kim Jong Un's base and system for leading the army were consolidated, this would lay a stumbling block in the way of grabbing the power."

It stressed repeatedly that Jang had tried to assemble a faction of his own, suggesting the purging process could still be playing out.

Jang's death could herald a "reign of terror," including more purges, said Lim Eul Chul, a North Korea expert at South Korea's Kyungnam University.

Another question mark is how the purge will impact North Korea's relationship with its only major ally, China. Jang had been seen as the leading supporter of Chinese-style economic reforms and an important link between Pyongyang and Beijing. China has called Jang's execution a domestic issue and has avoided further public comment.

North Korea has recently turned to attempts at diplomacy with South Korea and the United States. But tensions have remained high since Pyongyang's threats in March and April, which included warnings that it would restart nuclear bomb fuel production.

Another resident in Pyongyang, Ri Chol Ho, said he did not believe Jang alone was deserving of the harshest punishment.

"For this group of traitors who were going to destroy our single-hearted unity, execution is too lenient," he said. "They should be torn up and thrown into the rubbish bin of history."

__

Klug reported from Seoul. AP reporters Hyung-jin Kim and Eun-young Jeong in Seoul and Ken Moritsugu in Tokyo contributed to this story.

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JERUSALEM (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday in his latest push for an elusive Mideast peace deal.

On his ninth trip of the year to the region, Kerry continued his furious pace of shuttle diplomacy amid a rare snowstorm that blanketed Jerusalem.

"I have heard of making guests welcome and feeling at home. This is about as far as I've ever seen anything go ... giving me a New England snowstorm," said the former Massachusetts senator as he viewed a snow-covered Old City of Jerusalem with Netanyahu.

Kerry met Thursday in Ramallah with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and it took him more than two hours to get back to Jerusalem because of the wintry conditions, a trip that usually takes about 20 minutes. He departs later Friday for Vietnam.

Concerned that a final status agreement may not be possible by the May target date the two sides accepted when they resumed talks in August, U.S. officials say Kerry is hoping for a framework accord that would contain the principles of a comprehensive pact, but not specific details. If an outline were achieved, the negotiations could be extended beyond the nine-month timeline originally set by Kerry.

The officials, who spoke to reporters aboard Kerry's plane on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the negotiations publicly, stressed that an agreement on all issues — including security, borders of a future Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees — by May remains the goal.

But, should that prove unworkable, they said a framework agreement would buy time for additional negotiations. Netanyahu and Abbas agreed after numerous rounds of meetings with Kerry to negotiate for a minimum of nine months.

A framework accord, the officials said, would be a "logical step" on the path to a final status agreement.

In Ramallah and Jerusalem, he will also follow up on elements of a West Bank security plan, ideas for which he unveiled on his most recent visit to the region just last week, and other points of potential progress. But his latest visit comes amid Palestinian unhappiness with the security plan and few, if any, tangible signs of progress.

Kerry, along with special U.S. Mideast peace envoy Martin Indyk, met separately and then together for about three hours Monday with chief Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni and her Palestinian counterpart, Saeb Erekat, Psaki said. Livni and Erekat were in Washington for a Mideast conference in which President Barack Obama, Netanyahu and Kerry participated. Kerry also spoke Wednesday by phone with Netanyahu.

On Monday, though, top Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabbo said if Kerry finalized a framework accord, he would be breaking a promise to try to negotiate a final agreement in the current round of talks.

The Palestinians are concerned that a framework deal will accommodate very specific Israeli security demands while offering only vague promises to the Palestinians, Abed Rabbo said.

Security arrangements between Israel and a future Palestine would be central to such a framework. Kerry has argued that progress in negotiations is only possible if Israeli security concerns are addressed first.

The security proposals presented last week to Abbas and Netanyahu include arrangements for the border between Jordan and a state of Palestine.

U.S. officials have refused to discuss details, but Palestinian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details of the negotiations, say they would give Israel final say at that border for at least 10 years and would also have a military presence in the strip of land next to it, the West Bank's Jordan Valley.

Israeli officials have said they fear militants and weapons could be smuggled into a future Palestine if Israel gives up control over the West Bank-Jordan border. Abbas has said he is willing to accept an international presence there, but not Israeli forces.

The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967, but are willing to accept minor land swaps in drawing the final border to accommodate some of the settlements Israel has built on war-won land.

Netanyahu has refused to commit to what the Palestinians and most of the international community considers a basic ground rule — that border negotiations use the 1967 lines as a starting point.

In all, Israel has agreed to release 104 veteran Palestinian prisoners in four stages during the current negotiations, which began in late July and are to conclude in April. Israel has so far released two groups of prisoners.

 

Kerry wants the last two releases to be combined and be carried out in late January, instead of being done in two installments, the Palestinian officials said.

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) - U.N inspectors say chemical weapons have been used in the Syrian conflict, definitely in a widely publicized Aug. 21 attack near Damascus and probably in four other locations between March and late August.
 
The report by U.N. chemical weapons experts led by Swedish professor Ake Sellstrom did not determine whether the government or opposition were responsible for the alleged attacks.
 
Sellstrom issued an initial report on Sept. 16 which concluded that evidence collected in the Ghouta area of Damascus following an Aug. 21 attack provided "clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used." Graphic video footage showed dozens of people gasping for air and bodies lined up.
 
Thursday's report said evidence indicated chemical weapons were also probably used in Khan al Assal, Jobar, Saraqueb and Ashrafiah Sahnaya.
Read more...

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