Ferry carrying North Korean art troupe arrives to protests in South Korea
A ferry carrying a North Korean art troupe has arrived in South Korea and was greeted by protests at the dock.
The 140-member art troupe, who will be performing during the Winter Olympics as part of North Korea’s delegation, took the Mangyongbong 92 ferry from North Korea to the South Korean port of Mukho, where throngs of demonstrators were waiting. Some demonstrators held large photos of the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, with black Xs drawn through them.
Dozens of riot police with shields kept order as the ferry berthed. As the North Korean ship approached the dock, the protesters waved South Korean flags and marched around the port, chanting into amplified speakers: “We oppose Pyongyang Olympics!”
Protesters also waved South Korean and U.S. flags while singing the South Korean national anthem.
South and North Korea will march together in the Opening Ceremony Friday under a single “unification” flag: a blue Korean peninsula on a white background. The two countries will also field a joint women’s hockey team – something which has been controversial in South Korea, as some have argued it’s unfair to bump South Korean players from an Olympic team to make a political statement.
Some protestors think that the South Korean government has gone too far to promote North Korea’s participation and the North is taking advantage.
“They come to South Korea to make fools of us by advertising our Pyeongchang Olympics as their Pyongyang Olympics,” said one protester, a 67-year-old man waving a Korean flag who gave only his last name of Shin. (The 2018 Winter Olympics take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea, while Pyongyang is the capital of North Korea.)
“Why can’t we carry our own flag at the opening ceremony — because it’s Pyongyang Olympics!” a protester told AFP.
The art troupe from the North is led by star singer Hyun Song Wol and is scheduled to perform at Gangneung, near the Games venue of Pyeongchang, on Thursday and in Seoul on Sunday.
Hyun visited South Korea in late January, during preparations for the Olympics, and was the subject of intense media attention. She’s the lead singer of the North Korean girl group Moranbong Band, whose members perform in military-style outfits or short skirts, and sing patriotic songs, often about North Korea’s leaders.
It’s unusual for a North Korean ship to be allowed into ports in the South — Seoul banned all North Korean ships entering its ports and cut off most inter-Korean exchanges, including tourism, trade and aid, in 2010, in the wake of a torpedo attack on a South Korean navy warship that killed 46 sailors. North Korea denied involvement.
The ferry was given to North Korea by a group of sympathetic Korean residents of Japan in 1992, to celebrate the 80th birthday of the founder of North Korea, Kim Il Sung, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry.
The ferry features dozens of cabins of different classes, including special rooms where Kim Jong Un’s father and grandfather stayed, as well as a restaurant, a bar equipped with a karaoke machine, and a shop where guests can buy souvenirs and snacks, such as ice cream, video footage and images from the 2002 show.
The art troupe will use the vessel for transportation and lodging, the Unification Ministry said. No one from the ferry could be seen leaving the vessel late on Tuesday as dark fell, while earlier, some were spotted on the deck waving at the crowds.
North Korea is also sending a 229-member cheering squad to the Olympics. They will be travelling over the land border, along with some taekwondo demonstrators, journalists and North Korean officials on Wednesday.
The cheering squad will be staying at a mountain resort about two hours’ drive from the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium.
–With files from Reuters and AFP
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