A series of images have emerged from North Korea showing the moment Kim Jong Un's uncle was dragged off by uniformed guards, confirming rumours the dictator's one-time mentor has been purged.

The humiliating pictures are the first of a purged North Korean official since the late 1970s, according to analysts in South Korea, who believe they have been released to show the world Kim is firmly in charge.

His uncle, Jang Song Thaek, has not been seen in public since late last month and there have been reports that two of his closest aides were executed in public after being found guilty of a series of crimes.

During a Cabinet Council meeting yesterday, South Korean President Park Geun Hye called Kim's purging of Jang and his followers a "reign of terror" that could deepen uncertainty about ties between the rival Koreas.

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Several defence ministers and army chiefs have been purged by Kim in the past two years, but 67-year-old Jang is by far the most senior victim.

The images show him in an auditorium, being pulled into the aisle by his arms as dozens of other officials look on. He was shown being stripped of all his titles. Jang, who often dressed in a trim white general's uniform, was this time in civilian clothes and sitting in the audience, not with the rest of the leadership. Party members watched impassively as two burly men grabbed him.

Jang has already been airbrushed out of other images, while his name has been removed from previous news reports.

It is not clear when the photographs were taken. Unconfirmed reports from Free North Korea Radio suggested he might already have been executed.

The North's KCNA news agency reported after a meeting of the ruling Workers' Party politburo that Jang 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.

"Affected by the capitalist way of living, Jang committed irregularities and corruption and led a dissolute and depraved life. By abusing his power, he was engrossed in irregularities and corruption, had improper relations with several women and was wined and dined at back parlours of de luxe restaurants."

Andrew Lankov, an expert on North Korea, described the move as the most prominent disgrace of an official in North Korea's history.

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"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 told Britain's Guardian newspaper.

Last week, reports in South Korea suggested that Kim Kyong Hui, Kim's 65-year-old aunt and the wife of Jang, might be the next senior member of the regime to be purged. The daughter of Kim Il Sung, North Korea's founder, she is rumoured to be battling cancer, alcoholism and depression linked to the death of her daughter in 2006.

North Koreans and foreign observers will be keeping close watch for her appearance at memorials marking the second anniversary of Kim Jong Il's death on December 17.

The purge of Jang also calls into question how aggressively North Korea will push forward on the ambitious economic projects that he championed. The excoriation of Jang's business dealings is a sign the leadership is uncomfortable with the loss of state control that may come with economic growth.