04/28/2008, 00.00
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Torch in North Korea for the first time

People cheer on the relay. No incidents or criticism take place. Pyongyang praises the Olympic ideal as its population starves, denied every freedom. North Korea’s press calls South Korean president a “blockhead” for proposing stable relations

Pyongyang (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Olympic torch is in North Korea for the first time in its history, in a setting projecting a perfect image of universal brotherhood. At the same time North Korean media insult the president of South Korea.

In the repressive nation, which has China as its closest ally, the torch relay set out from the Juche Tower (which commemorates the national ideology of “self-reliance” created by the country's eternal President Kim Il Sung) in front of thousands of cheering peopled and a few Chinese flags.

Prime Minister Kim Yong Nam passed the torch to Pak Du Ik (see photo), the footballer who scored the historic goal that eliminated Italy in the quarter finals of the 1966 World Cup.

All along the 20-kilometre route through Pyongyang, thousands of people cheered the relay waving pink paper flowers and small flags with the Beijing Olympics logo in a perfect set-up focusing on friendship among peoples.

South of the border though, in South Korea North Korean exiles criticised the stopover in Pyongyang where Kim Jong Il denies his own citizens every human right, bans them from travelling without authorisation and rules over a population that is largely going hungry. The North Korean regime for its part has criticised anti-torch protests and has instead expressed its full support for Beijing’s repression in Tibet.

Yesterday in Seoul (South Korea) the torch was ‘escorted’ by some 8,000 police to prevent any protest. There were clashes between supporters of China and some 50 demonstrators criticising Beijing's policies, carrying a banner that read “Free North Korean refugees in China.”

Beijing usually repatriates North Koreans fleeing their homeland where they are generally punished with heavy sanctions.

A North Korean defector, Son Jong Hoon, who has led an unsuccessful public campaign to save his brother from execution in the North after the latter was accused of spying because the two met secretly in China, poured petrol on himself near the route, but police quickly surrounded him and carried him away.

Two days ago Pyongyang rejected a proposal by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to set up a joint inter-Korean liaison office.

North Korea’s press called Mr Lee’s proposal “a gimmick to avoid his responsibility for worsening the North-South relationship and divert public attention to somewhere else.”

It also used blunt expressions such as an “ignoramus,” a “political sleepwalker” and a “blockhead” to refer to President Lee.

South Korean presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan took on a more conciliatory tone. He said that “As (the president’s) proposal was not part of our North Korea strategies, we do not need to be affected by the North’s rejection.” However, he urged Pyongyang to come forward seriously, saying, “The inter-Korean liaison office is conceived in need of a regular channel for conversation and cooperation between South and North Korea.”

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