A series of blurred images have emerged from North Korea showing the moment the uncle of Kim Jong-un was dragged away by uniformed guards, confirming rumours that the dictator's onetime mentor has been purged.
Jang Song-thaek had not been seen in public since late November, amid reports two of his closest aides had been executed in public after being found guilty of a litany of crimes.
The humiliating pictures were the first such images since the late 1970s from North Korea of a purged official, according to analysts in South Korea, who believe they have been released to show the world that Mr Kim is firmly in charge.
Several defence ministers and army chiefs have been purged by Mr Kim in the past two years as he moves to assert his authority over the military.
But Mr Jang is by far the most senior official to have been ousted and his sacking means Pyongyang is undergoing its biggest leadership upheaval since the death of Kim Jong-il, Mr Kim's father, in 2011.
The images showed 67-year-old Mr Jang in an auditorium, being pulled into the aisle by his arms as dozens of other officials look on. He has already been airbrushed out of other images, while his name has been removed from previous reports.
Unconfirmed reports from Free North Korea Radio suggested that he may already have been executed.
The North's KCNA news agency said in a report following a meeting of the ruling Workers' Party politburo that he had been dismissed for a series of criminal acts, including corruption, womanising and drug-taking.
"Jang and his followers committed criminal acts baffling imagination and they did tremendous harm to our party and revolution," KCNA said.
Andrew Lankov, an expert on North Korea at Kookmin University, described the move as "the most prominent disgrace of an official in North Korea's entire history".
"It tells us something about the new leadership's style: the young man seems really tough and brutal in dealing with people he wants to destroy," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)