19 February 2018

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02/07/2018 KOREA

As Korean athletes get ready in Seoul, pope describes the Games as the Olympics of hope

Six officials from the international taekwondo Federation join 229 cheerleaders and 26 taekwondo players. A North Korean orchestra rehearses after arriving by ferry. Captain of joint women’s hockey team praises North Korean members, calls on fans to cheer for them. North Korea announced that Kim Jong-un’s sister will be the first family member to visit the South.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Six officials from the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) arrived in Seoul, via a flight from Beijing, to prepare for joint taekwondo demonstrations to celebrate the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

The six join a 280-strong North Korean delegation that includes 229 cheerleaders and 26 taekwondo demonstrators, who are already in South Korea.

The presence of North Korean athletes was made possible by the restart of talks following North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s New Year message in response to an olive branch from Seoul.

Soon after, inter-Korean talks began on 9 January, getting the greenlight from the International Olympic Committee on 20 January.

Responding to the renewed intra-Korean dialogue, Pope Francis praised the “Games of Peace”, as many South Koreans have come to call the Olympics.

In today's general audience, the pontiff said that the traditional Olympic truce “takes on special importance this year” with delegations from both North and South Korea marching together under one flag, competing as one team.

“This fact gives hope for a world in which conflicts are resolved peacefully with dialogue and mutual respect, as sports teaches (us) to do,” he said.

Meanwhile, the 140-member Samjiyon Orchestra that travelled to the South yesterday to perform in Gangneung, and Seoul, began rehearsing today.

The musicians arrived by ferry after the 2010 ban on North Korean ships from entering South Korean ports was lifted for the occasion.

The orchestra made a splash with their stylish coats and fur. Theirs will be the first performance by North Koreans in the South since 2002, when Pyongyang sent a cohort of 30 singers and dancers from several music and performance groups to Seoul for a joint event.

Although some conservative activists staged a protest at their presence, the atmosphere at today’s practice was positive. After initial reticence, the musicians smiled at journalists and a group of residents who greeted them saying “We are one”.

The same climate prevailed during the practice of the joint women’s hockey team. The decision to present a joint team did cause some resentment among South Koreans, who think that the presence of North Koreans will limit their chances at victory.

“When the North Korean players first came here, we didn't know how to approach them," said Park Jong-ah, captain of the joint Korean women's hockey team. "But we've become really close. [. . .] I hope people will be behind our team, and we'll go out there and play hard for them."

Following the announcement that Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of North Korea, would visit South Korea during the Olympics, North Korean sources reported that another VIP will also go south. Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un's younger sister, will be part of the official delegation.

South Korea’s Presidency welcomed the news, saying that it was a good-will gesture by North Korea to celebrate the Games and reduce tensions.

No one from the Kim family has ever travelled to South Korea before. The North Korean delegation is expected to arrive on Friday and stay for three days.

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