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South Koreans burn Kim Jong Un’s photo as North Korean band leader passes

Dozens of conservative activists attempted to burn a large photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as the head of the North’s extremely popular girl band passed by them at a Seoul railway station

world Updated: Jan 22, 2018 09:55 IST
Associated Press
Associated Press
Associated Press, Seoul
South Koreans burn Kim Jong Un's poster,South Korea,North Korea
South Korean protesters burn a portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a rally against a visit of North Korean Hyon Song Wol, head of a North Korean art troupe, in front of Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 22, 2018.(AP)

Dozens of conservative activists attempted to burn a large photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as the head of the North’s extremely popular girl band passed by them at a Seoul railway station Monday following a visit to potential venues for performances during next month’s Winter Olympics.

Hyon Song Wol, a Pyongyang celebrity who heads the all-female Moranbong Band hand-picked by Kim, began a two-day visit on Sunday, triggering media frenzy in South Korea about the woman who is also in charge of the North’s first artistic performances in South Korea since 2002.

After her visits to the eastern city of Gangneung, Hyon arrived back Monday morning at the Seoul railway station where she saw about 150 to 200 activists rallying against her visit and recent inter-Korean rapprochement deals. “Pyeongchang Olympics? We oppose Kim Jong Un’s Pyongyang Olympics,” they chanted referring to the North Korean capital.

Hyon saw the activists but did not react. After she left the scene, the demonstrators used a blowtorch to burn Kim’s photo, a North Korean flag and a “unification flag” that athletes of the rival Koreas plan to carry during the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Police used fire extinguishers to quench the fire, but the activists later stamped on Kim’s photo and the flags and burned them.

Seoul police plan to investigate the protesters, according to Yonhap news agency.

Hyon’s arrival has made her the subject of intense South Korean media attention, with photographers following her every move and TV stations aggressively reporting not only her career and band but also her fox-fur muffler, boots and facial expressions.

South Korea’s government sees North Korea’s participation in the Games — both in sporting events and cultural exchanges — as a way to calm tensions caused by Pyongyang’s recent nuclear and missile tests and war of words with the United States. The two Koreas agreed to field their first unified Olympic team, in women’s hockey, and have their athletes march together under the “unification flag” depicting their peninsula during the Feb. 9 opening ceremony.

Some of the Olympic proposals like a unified hockey team and the use of the joint flag have caused a heated debate in South Korea, reflecting changes in public views toward North Korea which has been rapidly expanding its nuclear and missile arsenals in recent years.

The current mood of reconciliation between the Koreas flared after North Korea’s Kim abruptly expressed his willingness to improve ties and send a delegation to the Olympics during his annual New Year’s address. Outside critics have dismissed Kim’s overture as a tactic to use improved ties with Seoul to weaken U.S.-led international sanctions over North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile programs.

Hyon, who is also an alternate member of the ruling party’s Central Committee, was travelling with six other North Koreans. Her delegation inspected possible venue sites in Gangneung, where some Olympic games are scheduled to take place, on Sunday and is to do the same in Seoul on Monday.

Her Moranbong Band is not to visit South Korea during the Games, but she’s to head a little-known 140-member art troupe which is to perform twice during the Olympics — one in Gangneung and the other in Seoul. The art troupe, which comprises orchestra members, singers and dancers, is part of North Korea’s Olympic delegation that also includes athletes, officials, journalists and a taekwondo demonstration team.

First Published: Jan 22, 2018 09:53 IST