North Korea has demanded South Korea apologises for "stinking riff-raff" protesters who burned an image of Kim Jong-un in Seoul.
The incident threatened to undermine an agreement that athletes from North Korea would attend the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea next month. Organisers had sought to promote the event as a "Peace Olympics", to open a door for dialogue.
But a group of right-wing activists set the image of Mr Kim on fire at a rally in Seoul on Monday, along with the North's national flag, prompting anger in Pyongyang.
It came as North Korean officials ended a rare trip to the South to prepare for planned concerts by their artistic troupes during the games. North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country called the protesters "human rejects devoid of appearance as human beings" and added: "They are a despicable group of gangsters in human form."
In a statement it accused the protesters of committing "a never-to-be-condoned hideous crime" and said they were the "dregs of history" and "conservative riff-raffs".
It added that Seoul should "throw overboard the rubbish so that they would not give off a stinking smell anymore" and "apologise before the nation". It described the protests as a deliberate attempt to turn the Olympics into a "theatre for escalating confrontation".
If North Korea's participation in the games was cancelled, the blame would rest "wholly with the South Korean authorities".
Park Soo-Hyun, South Korea's presidential spokesman, said: "The people have to all work together. Let us welcome the guests as dignified hosts." (© Daily Telegraph London)