South Koreans burn Kim Jong Un’s photo as North Korean band leader passes
Seoul: 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 during her visit to Seoul amid a flurry of cooperation between the rivals ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics in the South.
Hyon Song Wol, a Pyongyang celebrity who heads the Moranbong Band hand-picked by Kim, began a two-day visit Sunday, triggering media frenzy in South Korea about the woman who is also in charge of the North’s artistic performance during the Olympics. It has been rare for such a high-profile North Korean figure to travel to South Korea in recent years as they saw their ties deteriorating over the North Korean nuclear standoff before they recently abruptly sought to improve ties this month ahead of the 9-25 February Olympics.
After her visits to potential venues for North Korean performances in an eastern city, Hyon arrived back on Monday 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 together 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.
The band, with the young women in short skirts and high heels dancing and singing odes to Kim, draws global attention even though little information is available about it or about Hyon to outsiders. South Korean media say she is an army colonel and is close to Kim, but little else is known.
South Korea’s liberal government led by President Moon Jae-in 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 joint flag depicting their peninsula during the 9 February opening ceremony.
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