NORTH KOREA'S Kim Jong Il has purged some of his closest relatives, accusing them of trying to seize power, reports in Beijing and Seoul said.
The purge began some months ago when Kim Jong Il put his brother- in-law, Chang Song-taek, under house arrest along with 80 other officials and their family members. Many have reportedly been sent to North Korea's Gulag in the largest purge in a decade.
Some diplomats believe the power struggles may be connected the pace and scope of economic reforms. Kim Jong Il is reportedly preparing to announce new changes to the political and economic system in late February when the country celebrates his birthday.
Kim Jong Il took over from his father 10 years ago and managed to hold on to power as the economy collapsed and an estimated three million perished from hunger and disease.
The regime is being supported largely with aid from China and South Korea as Kim has tried to trade his nuclear weapons programme with sweeping security guarantees from Washington.
But with the re-election of George W Bush, Kim Jong Il has little realistic chance of realising his hopes, and there are growing signs that even China is beginning to lose patience with him. Beijing has moved some 60,000 troops from the Shenyang garrison to the border in case it needs to intervene.
A trickle of reports coming out of North Korea paint a picture of a regime in its dying days, with leading members of the ruling family at each other's throats.
Government sources in Seoul said Austrian intelligence was reported to have foiled an attempt last month to assassinate Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of Kim Jong Il, when he was visiting the country. Austria's Foreign Ministry has denied the story.
Another report circulating in Seoul says that in September Kim Jong Il's sister, Kim Kyong-hee, was seriously injured in a traffic accident, which is assumed to have been an attempt on her life.
In North Korea all members of the dynasty are considered to have the status of gods but Kim Kyong-hee and her husband, Chang Song- taek, were the most powerful couple after Kim Jong Il.
Kim Jong Il, who is 62 and known to be suffering from a liver disorder from years of heavy drinking, has been under pressure to name an heir. In the world's only hereditary Communist dictatorship, his eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, would normally …