independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Dennis Rodman visits North Korea for basketball tour

Former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman, center, gestures to the media as he arrives at the departure hall of Beijing International Capital Airport in Beijing Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. Rodman says he's going forward with an exhibition game including former NBA players in North Korea because he wants to connect with its people and let others know the sheltered communist country isn't so bad. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman at Beijing airport,

Former NBA basketball star Dennis Rodman left Beijing for North Korea on Monday with a team of retired basketball players to mark the birthday of "nice guy" North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

his will be Rodman's fourth trip to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, where he and his team of fellow former National Basketball Association stars will hold basketball games on Kim's birthday, which is believed to fall on Wednesday, although it has never been officially confirmed.

On previous visits, Rodman spent time dining as a guest of Kim, with whom he says he has a genuine friendship, though he did not meet Kim on his third trip.

Rodman said he will not interfere in the country's politics.

"People always say that North Korea is like a really communist country, that people are not allowed to go there," Rodman told reporters at an airport in Beijing. "I just know the fact that, you know, to me he's a nice guy, to me."

"Whatever he does political-wise, that's not my job. I'm just an athlete, an individual who wants to go over there and play something for the world. That's it."

Rodman's latest visit follows the rare public purge of Kim's powerful uncle Jang Song Thaek, who was executed in December.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has described recent events in North Korea as a "reign of terror". The purging of Jang, considered the second most powerful man in the North, indicated factionalism within the secretive government.

Wearing sunglasses, a sequin-encrusted cap and a pink scarf, Rodman was asked about his response to critics who said he should not play in the reclusive state.

"Are they going to shoot me? Are they going to shoot me? Come on, man," he said.

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