GANGNEUNG, South Korea – A North Korean orchestra gave on Thursday a historic first concert in South Korea amid tight security and protests against the North’s regime.
One day before the start of the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games, the Samjiyon orchestra performed under the direction of Hyon Song-wol, thought to be a former girlfriend of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.
Hours before the concert started in the city of Gangneung, which is set to host Olympic events, over 1,000 police officers were deployed to guarantee security amid protests against the North Korean regime, with demonstrators holding South Korean and American flags.
The protesters also held banners calling on Washington to launch preemptive airstrikes against the North, while others used loudspeakers to insult North Korea’s leader as well as South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
The concert, as well as the arrival of a taekwondo exhibition team and 229 cheerleaders from North Korea, was criticized by some protesters as a way to steal the limelight from the sporting event.
“I am sick of converting this into ‘Pyongyang Olympics’ and very angry with the orchestra’s visit,” Won Sun-Kyu, one of the protesters, told EFE, referring to the North’s capital.
A North Korean delegation is to take part in the Games as a result of agreements signed by the two Koreas, which have technically been at war for 65 years.
Both countries have also agreed to march under the same “Korean Unification flag” in the highly-anticipated opening ceremony on Friday.
A delegation of high ranking officials of the Kim Jong-un regime was also due to arrive on Friday, including his sister, Kim Yo-jong, and the president of the national assembly, Kim Yong-nam.