- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - South Korea has removed the flags of all competing nations from its streets ahead of the upcoming Asian Games in Incheon because of protests about the flying of rival North Korea’s flags.

The national flags of the 45 countries, including North Korea, had flown in Incheon and nine nearby cities since last Friday. But they were replaced by flags of the Olympic Council of Asia and ones bearing the Asian Games emblem following the complaints, according to the organizing committee.

South Korean prosecutors, police and other officials met Thursday and decided to allow North Korean flags to be hoisted only in limited places such as stadiums, sports venues and the athletes’ village, according to a Seoul prosecution office. When North Korea attended previous major sports held in South Korea, such as the 2002 Asian Games and the 2003 University Games, its national flag was flown in such limited places, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Lim Byeong Cheol said.

Despite the North’s participation in the games, animosity is high between the Koreas, which are separated by the world’s most heavily armed border. North Korea has conducted an unusually high number of rocket and missile test-launches this year, expressing anger over U.S.-South Korean war games. South Korea has rejected the North’s calls for improving ties, citing what Seoul says is a lack of sincerity.

North Korea is sending a 273-member delegation to the games, which includes athletes, coaches and judges, with a group of 94 arriving on Thursday. The North canceled its previous plans to dispatch cheerleaders in protest at what it calls Seoul’s hostility.

North Korea boycotted the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Summer Olympics, both in Seoul, but has since attended several other major sports events held in the South.

North Korean flags were hoisted along with other countries’ flags in South Korea during the 2002 Asian Games in Busan and the 2003 University Games in Daegu when South Korea was ruled by liberal governments supporting greater reconciliation.

The two countries remain in a technical state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

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