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(CNN) — As the shock sinks in of North Korea’s extraordinary announcement of the execution of leader Kim Jong Un’s uncle and former protector, government officials and analysts are trying to decipher what the brutal move means.

The ruthless disposal of Jang Song Thaek — Kim’s uncle by marriage who had, until recently, been regarded as the second-most powerful figure in the secretive, nuclear-armed nation — has serious implications for North Korea, its neighbors and the United States, observers said.

But exactly what is going on inside the notoriously opaque North Korea regime remains as murky as ever.

“We don’t have a clear sense of this at all,” said Victor Cha, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who represented the United States in nuclear talks with North Korea.

Some saw the execution, which North Korean state media reported early Friday, as a chilling demonstration of total control by Kim, the young leader who came to power two years ago.

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Chang: Regime like Richard III with nukes

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N. Korean media: Kim’s uncle ‘worse than a dog’

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North Korea: ‘Unprecedented development’

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Chang: Regime like Richard III with nukes

“I think what he’s telling people — the United States, South Korea, China, others — is that he is his own man, that you are going to have to deal with him,” said Philip Yun, executive director of the Ploughshares Fund, a nuclear nonproliferation group.

Who is Jang?

Jang, who was married to Kim’s aunt, was vice chairman of North Korea’s top military body and had often been pictured beside the young leader, who is believed to be around 30. He was considered to be the regent who secured Kim’s assumption of power after the 2011 death of his father, Kim Jong Il.

But in a lengthy article foaming with outraged rhetoric, North Korea’s official news agency on Friday accused Jang of trying to overthrow the state, describing him as “despicable human scum.”

One big question is whether Kim acted out of strength, consolidating the power he has amassed over the past two years, or out of fear his uncle was building a rival force inside the regime.

Kim already removed the country’s top general last year, Cha noted. By taking down Jang, he’s axed a powerful figure from the country’s dominant Workers’ Party.

“It makes you wonder: If he’s consolidating his power, what is he building it around?” Cha said. “He’s basically attacking the two most important institutions in North Korea, which is the party and the military.”

A U.S. official said, “Executing someone with Jang’s pedigree would be a dramatic statement that Kim Jong Un intends to be ruthless in consolidating his control.

“The public airing of the power play under way — which is highly unusual — is probably sending shockwaves through North Korea’s leadership cadre.”

Provocative moves

Few analysts interpreted the execution, which took place days after the North had said Jang had been dramatically removed from his government posts, as a healthy sign.

“If two weeks ago, we thought that North Korea was somewhat stable, I think today people feel that it’s not as stable as we thought it was,” said Cha, author of “The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future.”

North Korean citizens bow before the portraits of the founding father Kim Il-Sung, left, and his son Kim Jong-Il, in Pyongyang, North Korea on Monday, April 9, 2012. April 15 marked the 100-year anniversary of the founder's birth and journalists were allowed inside the country.North Korean citizens bow before the portraits of the founding father Kim Il-Sung, left, and his son Kim Jong-Il, in Pyongyang, North Korea on Monday, April 9, 2012. April 15 marked the 100-year anniversary of the founder’s birth and journalists were allowed inside the country.
North Korean technicians check the Unha-3 rocket at Tangachai-ri space center on Sunday, April 8.North Korean technicians check the Unha-3 rocket at Tangachai-ri space center on Sunday, April 8.
A controller is seen from the window of a train along the railway on the west coast Sunday. A controversial missile launch is expected to take place in the coming days. Pyongyang insists it has no bad intentions and invited foreign journalists to view its launch site.A controller is seen from the window of a train along the railway on the west coast Sunday. A controversial missile launch is expected to take place in the coming days. Pyongyang insists it has no bad intentions and invited foreign journalists to view its launch site.
Citizens dance on Monday during a rehearsal for the commemoration of Kim Il-Sung's 100th birthday anniversary. Japan, the United States and South Korea see the launch -- which would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions -- as a cover for a long-range ballistic missile test. And a South Korean intelligence report says it's likely to precede a nuclear test, as it did in 2006 and 2009.Citizens dance on Monday during a rehearsal for the commemoration of Kim Il-Sung’s 100th birthday anniversary. Japan, the United States and South Korea see the launch — which would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions — as a cover for a long-range ballistic missile test. And a South Korean intelligence report says it’s likely to precede a nuclear test, as it did in 2006 and 2009.
North Korean soldiers are seen from the window of a train along the railway heading from Pyongyang to the North Pyongan Province on the west coast.North Korean soldiers are seen from the window of a train along the railway heading from Pyongyang to the North Pyongan Province on the west coast.
A woman plays the piano and entertains in a downtown Pyongyang restaurant. U.S. President Obama said the real consequence for North Korea, should it go through with the launch, is that the country's leaders will miss an opportunity. "I hope that at some point the North Koreans make the decision that it is in their interests to figure out how to feed their people and improve their economy rather than have big parades where they show off weapons," he said in March.A woman plays the piano and entertains in a downtown Pyongyang restaurant. U.S. President Obama said the real consequence for North Korea, should it go through with the launch, is that the country’s leaders will miss an opportunity. “I hope that at some point the North Koreans make the decision that it is in their interests to figure out how to feed their people and improve their economy rather than have big parades where they show off weapons,” he said in March.
Two women on the the train prepare food for the journalists traveling across the country.Two women on the the train prepare food for the journalists traveling across the country.
The dress rehearsal for the celebration continues in the capital.The dress rehearsal for the celebration continues in the capital.
A pin with the face of Kim Il-Sung is affixed to the uniform of a North Korean soldier standing guard at the space center in Pyongyang on Wednesday, April 11.A pin with the face of Kim Il-Sung is affixed to the uniform of a North Korean soldier standing guard at the space center in Pyongyang on Wednesday, April 11.
A woman ties the branches of apple trees on a farm near Pyongyang on Tuesday, April 10. A woman ties the branches of apple trees on a farm near Pyongyang on Tuesday, April 10.
Workers and farms are seen through the window of a train as it passes through the country.Workers and farms are seen through the window of a train as it passes through the country.
Bicycles line the road as citizens work the land between Pyongyang and the North Phyongan province.Bicycles line the road as citizens work the land between Pyongyang and the North Phyongan province.
 A North Korean soldier is seen from the window of a train as he walks near a small town along the railway heading from Pyongyang to the North Pyongan Province on the west coast. A North Korean soldier is seen from the window of a train as he walks near a small town along the railway heading from Pyongyang to the North Pyongan Province on the west coast.
Employees work in a textile factory in Pyongyang. Employees work in a textile factory in Pyongyang.
People line the street as they wait for a bus.People line the street as they wait for a bus.
A dance troupe performs during the opening ceremony of the Spring Arts Festival in Pyongyang.A dance troupe performs during the opening ceremony of the Spring Arts Festival in Pyongyang.
A band performs during the opening of the Spring Arts Festival.A band performs during the opening of the Spring Arts Festival.
A building adorned with a huge portrait of the late president Kim Il-Sung is cleaned by workers in Pyongyang.A building adorned with a huge portrait of the late president Kim Il-Sung is cleaned by workers in Pyongyang.
 
A glimpse inside North Korea
A glimpse inside North Korea
A glimpse inside North Korea
A glimpse inside North Korea
A glimpse inside North Korea
A glimpse inside North Korea
A glimpse inside North Korea
A glimpse inside North Korea
A glimpse inside North Korea
A glimpse inside North Korea
A glimpse inside North Korea
A glimpse inside North Korea
A glimpse inside North Korea
A glimpse inside North Korea
A glimpse inside North Korea
A glimpse inside North Korea
A glimpse inside North Korea
A glimpse inside North Korea
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Photos: A glimpse inside North KoreaPhotos: A glimpse inside North Korea

A stern looking North Korean guard by the Chinese border customs office. This image was deleted by North Korean officials. A stern looking North Korean guard by the Chinese border customs office. This image was deleted by North Korean officials.
Writer Johan Nylander and his guide, Ko Chang Ho, watch as a North Korean guard deletes 90 photos deemed unacceptable. Nylander was able to recover the photos with the help of an IT specialist -- the images that follow are an edited selection.Writer Johan Nylander and his guide, Ko Chang Ho, watch as a North Korean guard deletes 90 photos deemed unacceptable. Nylander was able to recover the photos with the help of an IT specialist — the images that follow are an edited selection.
This propaganda monument of "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-Il by a countryside road, not far from the border to China, was deleted by authorities. North Korea required images of leaders be full body shots. This propaganda monument of “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-Il by a countryside road, not far from the border to China, was deleted by authorities. North Korea required images of leaders be full body shots.
People standing by the train track, while a guard is monitoring the bike race. People standing by the train track, while a guard is monitoring the bike race.
In the city of Rason, people are leaning out of windows to get a glimpse of the Western cyclists. In the city of Rason, people are leaning out of windows to get a glimpse of the Western cyclists.
A woman and a man walking by the side of the road lined with cornfields. A woman and a man walking by the side of the road lined with cornfields.
Villagers waving by the race path.Villagers waving by the race path.
Guards and custom officials by the border to China.Guards and custom officials by the border to China.
By the border checkpoint next to the Tumen River, North Korean customs officials can play volleyball. Officials prohibited any photos of North Korean military bases.By the border checkpoint next to the Tumen River, North Korean customs officials can play volleyball. Officials prohibited any photos of North Korean military bases.
Peasants and villagers standing by the road to look at the Western cyclistsPeasants and villagers standing by the road to look at the Western cyclists
Guard keeping an eye on the bikers next to a small village. Guard keeping an eye on the bikers next to a small village.
Kids playing outside village houses. Kids playing outside village houses.
Spectators waiting for the bikers to reach the finish line. In the background the "Great" and "Dear Leaders" Kim Il Sung and his son, Kim Jong-Il.Spectators waiting for the bikers to reach the finish line. In the background the “Great” and “Dear Leaders” Kim Il Sung and his son, Kim Jong-Il.
Huge crowds -- some of whom standing on their own bikes -- as they await cyclists by the race finish line in Rason.Huge crowds — some of whom standing on their own bikes — as they await cyclists by the race finish line in Rason.
Custom official and tourist bureau guide checking foreigners' passports. Custom official and tourist bureau guide checking foreigners’ passports.
Guides from the local tourist bureau handing out water bottles to bikers, monitored by a guard in the background. Guides from the local tourist bureau handing out water bottles to bikers, monitored by a guard in the background.
Journalist Johan Nylander and his North Korean guide, Ko Chang Ho. EDITOR'S NOTE: This image was not among those deleted by North Korean officials. Journalist Johan Nylander and his North Korean guide, Ko Chang Ho. EDITOR’S NOTE: This image was not among those deleted by North Korean officials.
 
Photos North Korea didn’t want you to see
Deleting the offensive photos
Hello, Dear Leader
Waiting for a train
Watching the race
Pedestrian peasants
Village life
Heavy security
Secret volleyball court?
Photos North Korea didn’t want you to see
Keeping watch
Photos North Korea didn’t want you to see
Waiting for the cyclists
Standing on bikes to see cyclists
Document check
Water checkpoint
Writer and his minder
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Expand: The photos N. Korea bannedExpand: The photos N. Korea banned

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a military factory in this undated picture released by the Korean Central News Agency on Friday, May 17. North Korea launched several short-range guided missiles into the sea off the Korean Peninsula's east coast May 18, South Korea's semi-official news agency Yonhap cited the South Korean Defense Ministry as saying.North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a military factory in this undated picture released by the Korean Central News Agency on Friday, May 17. North Korea launched several short-range guided missiles into the sea off the Korean Peninsula’s east coast May 18, South Korea’s semi-official news agency Yonhap cited the South Korean Defense Ministry as saying.
Kim Jong Un visits the Ministry of People's Security on Wednesday, May 1, as part of the country's May Day celebrations.Kim Jong Un visits the Ministry of People’s Security on Wednesday, May 1, as part of the country’s May Day celebrations.
A North Korea soldier gestures to stop photographers from taking photos from a Chinese tour boat as other soldiers look on along the North Korean bank of the Yalu River near the town of Sinuiji across the Chinese city of Dandong in Liaoning province, China, on Saturday, April 6. A North Korea soldier gestures to stop photographers from taking photos from a Chinese tour boat as other soldiers look on along the North Korean bank of the Yalu River near the town of Sinuiji across the Chinese city of Dandong in Liaoning province, China, on Saturday, April 6.
North Korean soldiers gather by the docks in Sinuiju near the Chinese border on Thursday, April 4.North Korean soldiers gather by the docks in Sinuiju near the Chinese border on Thursday, April 4.
North Korean soldiers patrol along the Yalu River in Sinuiju across the border from the Chinese city of Dandong on April 4.North Korean soldiers patrol along the Yalu River in Sinuiju across the border from the Chinese city of Dandong on April 4.
Kim Jong Un is briefed by his generals in this undated photo. On the wall is a map titled "Plan for the strategic forces to target mainland U.S." Kim Jong Un is briefed by his generals in this undated photo. On the wall is a map titled “Plan for the strategic forces to target mainland U.S.”
Kim Jong Un works during a briefing in this undated photo.Kim Jong Un works during a briefing in this undated photo.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects drills by the Korean People's Army navy at an undisclosed location on North Korea's east coast on March 25 in a photo from the state-run Korean Central News Agency.North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects drills by the Korean People’s Army navy at an undisclosed location on North Korea’s east coast on March 25 in a photo from the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
Kim makes his way to an observation post with North Korean soldiers on March 25.Kim makes his way to an observation post with North Korean soldiers on March 25.
Kim uses a pair of binoculars to look south from the Jangjae Islet Defense Detachment near South Korea's Taeyonphyong Island on March 7.Kim uses a pair of binoculars to look south from the Jangjae Islet Defense Detachment near South Korea’s Taeyonphyong Island on March 7.
Kim is greeted by the family of a soldier as he inspects Jangjae Islet Defense Detachment near South Korea's Taeyonphyong Island in South Hwanghae province on Thursday, March 7, in a photo from the state-run Korean Central News Agency.Kim is greeted by the family of a soldier as he inspects Jangjae Islet Defense Detachment near South Korea’s Taeyonphyong Island in South Hwanghae province on Thursday, March 7, in a photo from the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
Kim is surrounded by soldiers during a visit to the Mu Islet Hero Defense Detachment near South Korea's Taeyonphyong Island on March 7. North Korea has escalated its bellicose rhetoric, threatening nuclear strikes, just before the U.N. Security Council passed tougher sanctions against the secretive nation on March 7.Kim is surrounded by soldiers during a visit to the Mu Islet Hero Defense Detachment near South Korea’s Taeyonphyong Island on March 7. North Korea has escalated its bellicose rhetoric, threatening nuclear strikes, just before the U.N. Security Council passed tougher sanctions against the secretive nation on March 7.
Kim arrives at Jangjae Islet by boat to meet with soldiers of the Jangjae Islet Defense Detachment near Taeyonphyong Island in South Hwanghae province on March 7.Kim arrives at Jangjae Islet by boat to meet with soldiers of the Jangjae Islet Defense Detachment near Taeyonphyong Island in South Hwanghae province on March 7.
Soldiers in the North Korean army train at an undisclosed location on March 6. Soldiers in the North Korean army train at an undisclosed location on March 6.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, poses with chiefs of branch social security stations in this undated picture released by North Korea's official news agency on November 27. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, poses with chiefs of branch social security stations in this undated picture released by North Korea’s official news agency on November 27.
Kim celebrates with staff from the satellite control center in Pyongyang, North Korea, during the launch of a rocket carrying a satellite, in a photo released by the official North Korean news agency on December 12. Kim celebrates with staff from the satellite control center in Pyongyang, North Korea, during the launch of a rocket carrying a satellite, in a photo released by the official North Korean news agency on December 12.
A crowd watches as statues of the nation's founder, Kim Il Sung, and his son Kim Jong Il are unveiled during a ceremony in Pyongyang on April 13, 2012. Photos from North Korea are rare, but the country was on full display in April 2012 as it celebrated the 100th birthday of Kim Il Sung.A crowd watches as statues of the nation’s founder, Kim Il Sung, and his son Kim Jong Il are unveiled during a ceremony in Pyongyang on April 13, 2012. Photos from North Korea are rare, but the country was on full display in April 2012 as it celebrated the 100th birthday of Kim Il Sung.
A North Korean soldier stands guard in front of an UNHA III rocket at the Tangachai-ri Space Center on April 8, 2012.A North Korean soldier stands guard in front of an UNHA III rocket at the Tangachai-ri Space Center on April 8, 2012.
In April 2012, Pyongyang launched a long-range rocket, which broke apart and fell into the sea. The UNHA III rocket is pictured on its launch pad in Tang Chung Ri, North Korea.In April 2012, Pyongyang launched a long-range rocket, which broke apart and fell into the sea. The UNHA III rocket is pictured on its launch pad in Tang Chung Ri, North Korea.
A closer look at the UNHA III rocket on its launch pad in Tang Chung Ri, North Korea.A closer look at the UNHA III rocket on its launch pad in Tang Chung Ri, North Korea.
A military vehicle participates in a parade in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.A military vehicle participates in a parade in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.
North Koreans wave flags in front of portraits of Kim Il Sung, left, and his son Kim Jong Il during celebrations to mark the 100th birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang on April 16, 2012. North Koreans wave flags in front of portraits of Kim Il Sung, left, and his son Kim Jong Il during celebrations to mark the 100th birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang on April 16, 2012.
North Korean soldiers relax at the end of an official ceremony attended by leader Kim Jong Un at a stadium in Pyongyang on April 14, 2012.North Korean soldiers relax at the end of an official ceremony attended by leader Kim Jong Un at a stadium in Pyongyang on April 14, 2012.
Kim Jong Un applauds as he watches a military parade in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.Kim Jong Un applauds as he watches a military parade in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.
A North Korean soldier stands on a balcony in Pyongyang on April 16, 2012.A North Korean soldier stands on a balcony in Pyongyang on April 16, 2012.
North Korean soldiers march during a military parade in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.North Korean soldiers march during a military parade in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.
Soldiers board a bus outside a theater in Pyongyang on April 16, 2012.Soldiers board a bus outside a theater in Pyongyang on April 16, 2012.
North Korean performers sit below a screen showing images of leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on April 16, 2012.North Korean performers sit below a screen showing images of leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on April 16, 2012.
North Korean soldiers salute during a military parade in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.North Korean soldiers salute during a military parade in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.
Kim Jong Un visits the Rungna People's Pleasure Ground, which is under construction in Pyongyang, in a photo released on July 3, 2012, by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency.Kim Jong Un visits the Rungna People’s Pleasure Ground, which is under construction in Pyongyang, in a photo released on July 3, 2012, by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency.
North Korean soldiers listen to a speech during an official ceremony attended by leader Kim Jong Un at a stadium in Pyongyang on April 14, 2012.North Korean soldiers listen to a speech during an official ceremony attended by leader Kim Jong Un at a stadium in Pyongyang on April 14, 2012.
Members of a North Korean military band gather following an official ceremony at the Kim Il Sung stadium in Pyongyang on April 14, 2012.Members of a North Korean military band gather following an official ceremony at the Kim Il Sung stadium in Pyongyang on April 14, 2012.
North Korean military personnel watch a performance in Pyongyang on April 16, 2012.North Korean military personnel watch a performance in Pyongyang on April 16, 2012.
A North Korean controller is seen along the railway line between Pyongyang and North Pyongan province on April 8, 2012.A North Korean controller is seen along the railway line between Pyongyang and North Pyongan province on April 8, 2012.
A North Korean military honor guard stands at attention at Pyongyang's airport during a diplomatic visit on May 2, 2001.A North Korean military honor guard stands at attention at Pyongyang’s airport during a diplomatic visit on May 2, 2001
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Photos: Kim Jong Un\'s militaryPhotos: Kim Jong Un’s military

Suh Sang-ki, a lawmaker in South Korea’s governing Saenuri Party who sits on a parliamentary intelligence committee, said the decision to kill Jang suggests Kim’s power is weaker than that of his father.

In a statement issued after a phone briefing from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, Suh said the execution appeared to be a pre-emptive effort to prevent any internal unrest over Jang’s ouster.

Analysts said North Korea was likely to continue with the provocative moves under Kim that have strained its relations with South Korea, the United States and others.

“I think there’s going to be a clear amount of brinksmanship,” said Yun of the Ploughshares Fund. “I think if we continue to wait for him to do things, he’s going to continue to shoot missiles, and he’ll probably at some point decide to test a nuclear weapon.”

Missile and nukes

North Korea carried out a long-range rocket launch a year ago and an underground nuclear test, its third so far, in February. The U.N. sanctions that followed were met by a barrage of threatening rhetoric from Pyongyang, directed at South Korea and the United States, which ratcheted up tensions in the region.

The situation has calmed since, and the North and South have resumed dialogue. The two sides have agreed to meet next week in their joint industrial zone on the North’s side of the border.

But with the anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death, last year’s rocket launch and now Jang’s execution, Seoul is keeping a close eye on Pyongyang’s actions, officials said.

The South Korean defense ministry said Friday that no unusual activities by the North Korean military had been detected.

“December has always been a month in which something happens with North Korea,” Cha said. “And we’re only halfway through it.”

In Washington, a State Department official acknowledged having seen the report of Jang’s execution. “While we cannot independently verify this development, we have no reason to doubt the official KCNA report,” deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement, referring to North Korea’s state news agency.

“If confirmed, this is another example of the extreme brutality of the North Korean regime. We are following developments in North Korea closely and consulting with our allies and partners in the region,” Harf added.

China, whose senior officials were considered to have close ties to Jang, described the recent developments as North Korea’s “internal affairs.”

Beijing hopes and believes that relations between the two countries “will continue (to) advance healthily and steadily,” Hong Lei, a foreign ministry spokesman, said at a regular briefing Friday.

Opinion: How Kim Jong Un got rid of his uncle

‘Worse than a dog

The official North Korean report on the execution said a special military tribunal had been held Thursday against Jang, who was accused of trying to overthrow the state “by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods.”

It added, “All the crimes committed by the accused were proved in the course of hearing and were admitted by him.”

Once his guilt was established, Jang was immediately executed, it said.

The KCNA report described Jang as a “traitor for all ages” and “worse than a dog,” saying he had betrayed his party and leader.

Jang and his allies were accused of double-dealing behind the scenes, “dreaming different dreams” and selling the country’s resources at cheap prices, thereby threatening North Korea’s economic development, according to a KCNA statement this week.

“Jang desperately worked to form a faction within the party by creating illusion about him and winning those weak in faith and flatterers to his side,” the statement said.

It also accused Jang of womanizing, drug use, gambling, eating at expensive restaurants and undergoing medical treatment in a foreign country.

Friday’s KCNA report said Jang distributed pornographic pictures among his confidants and took at least 4.6 million euros ($6.3 million) “

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