Sunday 23 September 2018

Winter Olympics begin with show of unity between North and South Korea

Kim Jong Un’s sister shook hands with the South Korean president during a show of reconciliation that seemed unlikely in recent weeks.

South Korean president Moon Jae-in shakes hands with North Korea’s Kim Yo Jong
South Korean president Moon Jae-in shakes hands with North Korea’s Kim Yo Jong

By Foster Klug

The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has shaken hands with South Korea’s president as the Winter Olympics began with an extraordinary and unexpected show of unity in Pyeongchang.

Kim Yo Jong greeted South Korean leader Moon Jae-in prior to a spectacular opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium which told the story of the entire Korean peninsula.

US vice president Mike Pence sat just a row ahead of Ms Kim and the North’s nominal head of state, Kim Jong Nam, as they watched the ceremony unfold.

Later, North and South Korean athletes both entered the Olympic Stadium together, waving flags of unity — the long-time dream, at least in theory, of many Koreans in the North and South.

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Chung Gum Wang and Yunjong Won lead out North Korean and South Korean athletes

It was the rivals’ first joint Olympic march since 2007. International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach then handed the podium to Mr Moon, who declared the Olympics officially open.

In a reception ahead of the ceremony, Mr Moon said: “Athletes from the two Koreas will work together for victory, and that will resonate with and be remembered in the hearts of people around the world as a sign of peace.”

Mr Bach lauded the joint march of the two Koreas as a “powerful message”.

“We thank you,” he said. “We are all touched by this wonderful gesture. We all join and support you in your message of peace.”

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Flag-bearer Lizzy Yarnold leads Team GB

The opening ceremony took place before a world watching the Games not only for their athletic significance and global spectacle, but for clues about what the political future of the peninsula could hold.

Performances displayed the sweep of Korean history and culture. Members of a delegation from North Korea, part of an extraordinary Olympics partnership between the two Korean rivals, watched from high in the stadium a performance called “The Land of Peace”.

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Fireworks burst over the Olympic Stadium (AP)

After a chaotic year of nuclear war threats and missile tests from the North, it was a striking visual moment.

There was a palpable excitement in this isolated, rugged mountain town, as one of the poorest, coldest and most disgruntled parts of an otherwise prosperous South Korea kicked off two weeks of winter sports, Olympic spectacle and, perhaps, reconciliation between the North and South.

The rival Koreas, flirting with war just weeks ago, are suddenly making overtures toward the no-longer-quite-so-absurd notion of cooperation.

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Members of the North Korean delegation wave flags of the combined Koreas (AP)

The North has sent nearly 500 people to the Pyeongchang Games including officials, athletes, artists and cheerleaders after the Koreas agreed to a series of conciliatory gestures to mark the event.

More than 2,900 athletes from 92 countries will compete, making it the biggest Winter Olympics to date.

Press Association

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