North Korea capital 'under lockdown' amid rumours of threat to Kim Jong-un - Telegraph - FACTOIDS
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North Korea capital 'under lockdown' amid rumours of threat to Kim Jong-un - Telegraph

The North Korean capital has been placed under lockdown, according to sources with Pyongyang, raising new questions about the stability of Kim Jong-un's regime.

Quoting sources within North Korea, the respected New Focus International news web site has reported that a ban on new travel passes to leave or enter Pyongyang was introduced on September 27.

And while the North Korean authorities have in the past limited access to the capital, the latest restrictions even apply to permanent residents of Pyongyang, who are by definition the elite of the regime.

"This sort of action suggests there has either been an attempted coup or that the authorities there have uncovered some sort of plot against the leadership," Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo's Waseda University and an authority on North Korean affairs, told The Telegraph.

"If it is a military-backed coup, then the situation in Pyongyang will be very dangerous and I have heard reports that Kim has been moved out of the capital," he said.

"Another reason might be that some senior officials of the regime have attempted to defect and they are closing the escape routes, such as the airport and the border," Prof. Shigemura added.

The travel restrictions were introduced just two days after a session of the North's rubber-stamp parliament at which Mr Kim was conspicuous by his absence.

Soldiers during recent celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the founding of North Korea in Pyongyang (Reuters)

The dictator's failure to attend the session prompted new rumours about his health and suggestions that there had been a coup or some other sort of disturbance in North Korea. Fuelled by his failure to appear in public since September 4, rumours about unrest in the secretive state have been rife on Chinese social media.

The North Korean government was sufficiently unsettled by the reports to issue a statement claiming that Mr Kim had injured both his ankles during "on-the-spot guidance tours" to factories and military units in recent weeks.

Another suggestion is that a purge has taken place in Pyongyang, although less violent than the very public arrest and subsequent execution of Jang Song-thaek, Mr Kim's uncle and mentor, in December.

North Korea's KCNA state media said in a brief report that Choe Ryong-hae, the vice-chairman of the National Defence Commission, and Jang Jong-nam, another senior member of the agency, were being "transferred" to other duties. Analysts say that whatever those new posts may be, they represent significant demotions.

Neighbouring countries will now be closely watching ceremonies on October 10 to mark the founding of the Korean Worker's Party. Should Mr Kim be unable to attend another red-letter day on the nation's calendar, then rumours about his well-being will inevitably start once again.

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