Tue, Jan 23, 2018 - Page 1 News List

S Koreans protest, swoon over North Korean band leader


Hyon Song-wol, head of North Korea’s art troupe, gets off a bus as she arrives at the train station in Seoul on Sunday.

Photo: Newsis via AP

Conservative South Korean activists yesterday burned 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 handpicked by Kim, began a two-day visit on Sunday, triggering a 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 Feb. 9 to 25 Olympics.

After her visits to potential venues for North Korean performances in an eastern city, Hyon arrived back yesterday 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 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, Yonhap news agency reported.

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 Korean President Moon Jae-in’s administration sees North Korea’s participation in the Games as a way to calm tensions caused by Pyongyang’s recent nuclear and missile tests, and war of words with the US.

However, the South’s main conservative opposition party complained that “the Moon government is offering gracious hospitality to a North Korean army colonel as if she’s a queen.”

“Did they forget North Korea had until recently been threatening to turn South Korea into a sea of fire with its nuclear weapons and missiles?” a party statement said.

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