Members of conservative groups in South Korea burnt images of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in the capital Seoul as a mark of protest against Pyongyang's participation in the upcoming Winter Olympics. The protesters hit the streets just as a Pyongyang delegation led by pop diva Hyon Song-wol visited venues to oversee arrangements for North Korean performances.
The rival Koreas broke a years-long stalemate agreeing to the participation of North Korean athletes in the Pyeongchang Winter Games, scheduled to take place in February. To prepare for the performances of a North Korean band, a team was initially supposed to visit the venues over the weekend by it was delayed.
On Monday (22 January), the seven-member delegation visited concert halls, three in Seoul and two in another city, Gangneung. Two concerts are expected to be performed by the Samjiyon Orchestra, nicknamed North Korea's "army of beauties".
"I feel like the concerts will be successful thanks to these welcoming citizens in Gangneung," Hyon told a South Korean official accompanying the visiting delegates, according to the Yonhap news agency. However, Hyon, once rumoured to be Kim's girlfriend and now a prominent figure of the art troupe, did not answer any questions posed by journalists.
Protests broke out in Seoul when Hyon tried to visit venues amid tight security measures. There were about 200 campaigners demonstrating against the high-profile visit and inter-Korean talks.
Though Hyon saw the activists, she did not respond to them. Images of Kim, who has a demigod status in North Korea, were torched just after Hyon left the place. Police intervened to put out the fire but the protesters burnt the photographs again.
It is still unclear whether any arrests have been made but the incident is expected to be investigated.
Cho Won-jin, a conservative lawmaker who led the protests, said: "The Pyeongchang Olympics is degrading to a Pyongyang Olympics of Kim Jong-un who is propagating the North Korean system and trying to make its nuclear weapons a done deal."