Winter Olympics 2018: Protesters clash with police in Pyeongchang during demonstration against North Korea

'We do not accept this Winter Olympics contaminated by the participation of North Korea' says one South Korean, demonstrators destroy pictures of Kim Jong-un

Chris Baynes
Friday 09 February 2018 14:40
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South Korean protesters clash with police over North Korea presence at 2018 Winter Olympics

Demonstrators have clashed with riot police at protests against North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics.

Protesters played patriotic songs while waving South Korean and US flags in front of the Olympic stadium ahead of the opening ceremony for the Games in Pyeongchang.

Footage showed scuffles breaking out and some protesters tearing apart portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

One said the Games had been “contaminated” by the secretive communist state.

North and South Korean athletes marched together at the opening ceremony, following months of negotiations by Seoul, which is seeking to use the Olympics to ease tensions over by Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.

A high-ranking North Korean delegation including Mr Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, landed in South Korea earlier in the day aboard the leader’s private jet. Pyongyang has sent more than 500 people in all, including officials, athletes, artists and cheerleaders.

The North’s participation has been generally welcomed, but right-wing protesters have shown up at several venues to burn North Korean flags and tear up portraits of Mr Kim.

Sa Duk Hong, a demonstrator from Seoul, said: “We do not accept this Winter Olympics contaminated by the participation of North Korea.”

Although the protests have been small, they have generated irate coverage in North Korea’s state-run media and could potentially spin out into a major diplomatic incident if demonstrators managed to get close to Pyongyang’s delegation - particularly Ms Kim and her entourage. Security around the North Koreans is tight.

While there was anger outside the Olympic Stadium, inside the arena there smiles from those on both sides of the Korean divide.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife shook hands with Mr Kim’s younger sister, making an unprecedented visit to the South with North Korea’s nominal head of state, 90-year-old Kim Yong Nam.

The two are part of an extraordinary diplomatic push by the North aimed at using the Olympics to ease tensions with Seoul and bolster unity after a year that marked by escalating fears of conflict and increasingly angry war of rhetoric between Pyongyang and Washington.

As they shook hands, the North and South Koreans spoke briefly. It is not known what they said, but all of them were smiling.

US Vice President Mike Pence and his wife were seated beside the Moons and next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife. His office said he did not interact with the North Koreans.

The Moons, Nam and Kim all stood again as athletes from both Koreas marched together behind a blue-and-white “unification” flag, for the first time since 2007, in a spectacular opening ceremony which told the story of the entire peninsula.

Two athletes from North and South Korea's joint women's ice hockey team carried the Olympic torch together during the ceremony, before handing it to South Korean figure skating gold medallist Yuna Kim to ignite the Olympic cauldron.

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