February 9, 2018 5:04 pm
Updated: February 9, 2018 5:19 pm

Protests in Pyeongchang nothing new for Olympics in South Korea

OLYMPIC FLASHBACK: Student protests in favour of unification mar 1988 Seoul Games

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As night fell in Pyeongchang ahead of the opening ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics there was a throng of people on the streets, dancing bands, flag wavers and a demonstration against the presence of North Korea at the Games.

Around 100 protesters hoisted U.S., South Korean and Israeli national flags as delegates and the public arrived for the opening of the Pyeongchang Games. When flares were lit, police sprayed fire extinguishers on some of the demonstrators.

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READ MORE: Highlights from the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics opening ceremony

North Korea is sending athletes and a large delegation to its southern neighbour as relations — at least temporarily — thaw between the two nations on the eve of one of the coldest Games on record.

“We are here to protest against President Moon-Jin government’s policy on the Pyeongchang Olympics,” protester Kang Min Soo said. “We want to hold our own original flag. But this government is stopping us from using our own flag … That kind of peninsular flag — we don’t want that flag.”

WATCH: Anti-North Korean protesters clash with police in Pyeongchang

Other demonstrators worried the show of unity between the two nations threatened South Korea’s democracy.

“We don’t want to be a communist country. Our president wants to change our country to be a communist country right now,” Thasik Park said.

Student protests during Seoul Olympics

Protests also marred the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, just 14 months after student demonstrations forced the South Korean government to enact major democratic reforms.

Several days of violent demonstrations were held outside Seoul’s Yonsei University in opposition to the South Korean government. Demonstrators accused then-president Roh Moo-Hyun of staging the Games to strengthen his dictatorial and military rule.

Many protesters in support of unification favoured North Korea’s involvement in the Seoul Olympics after the country formally requested to co-host the Games. However, the South Korean government denied the request, leading to the North’s total boycott of the Olympics.

Protests in Pyeongchang

Thirty years later, there have been sporadic protests against the presence of North Koreans in Pyeongchang, although opinion is split.

On Thursday, 140 rowdy protesters set off fireworks as they gathered in Gangneung, a sub-host city of the Winter Olympic Games, to protest a North Korean orchestra that performing at a local arts centre as part of the Pyeongchang Olympics.

“We are here today because the Pyeongchang Olympics, a pure sports events, has turned into propaganda for the North Korean regime, Kim Jong Un’s regime, that is against our will,” said Kyung Hye Kim. “Kim Jong Un of North Korea is utilizing this Olympics politically to advertise as if the South and North Korea are in peace.”

-With files from The Associated Press and Global News.

© 2018 Reuters

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