07/16/2012, 00.00
NORTH KOREA
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Army chief removed in Pyongyang

Gen Ri Yong-ho leaves office "because of illness". Viewed as a key ally of Kim Jong-un, he helped the new dictator during the power transition in December. A successor has not yet been named.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) - In a short statement, North Korea's state-run news agency KCNA announced that North Korea army chief Ri Yong-ho had been removed from his posts "because of illness". The move was unexpected. Ri was close to the country's dictator, Kim Jong-un.

For South Korean analysts, Ri was one of the key supporters of the young leader during the transition of power following Kim Jong-il's death id December. Mr Ri helped the latter's son reorganise the military, which is North Korea's main power base.

In Seoul, a source in the Unification Ministry said that the move was "very unusual" and that it shakes up the Communist nation's rigid authoritarian structure.

The army chief regularly appeared in public events and few accept the usual health reason for his departure.

Some analysts believe that Kim Jong-un decided to remove the army chief to replace him with someone younger and closer to the Communist Party. The influential army remains under observation because of its nuclear ambitions.

A hero of the revolution, Ri was almost an outsider to the country's political system.

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