- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2003

DAEGU, South Korea — North Korea threatened to pull out of the World University Games yesterday after a brawl between North Korean reporters and human rights activists protesting the communist country’s leader.

The melee set back hopes that the Games would symbolize inter-Korean solidarity ahead of six-nation talks seeking to resolve a standoff over North Korea’s suspected nuclear weapons program. The negotiations begin Wednesday in Beijing.

The fight, which lasted about 10 minutes, erupted as the reporters from the North’s state-run media tried to seize banners critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il from about 20 protesters outside the stadium.

“Down with Kim Jong-il. Rescue our Northern brethren,” one banner read. Protesters also held pictures of starving North Korean children lying in hospital beds.

North Korean team chief Jun Kuk-man later vowed to pull his delegation from the Games unless the South Korean government apologized and guaranteed it would prevent a recurrence.

He criticized the protest as “an unacceptable crime by human scum,” and defended the conduct of the North Korean reporters.

“South Korean authorities, rather than stopping and dispersing the anti-communist, right-wing group’s anti-North rally, not only acquiesced in it but protected it by mobilizing its police force,” Mr. Jun said.

“We cannot but reconsider our participation if … protest continues under the protection of hundreds of policemen like this,” Mr. Jun told reporters.

More than 100 South Korean riot police were at the scene and helped break up the scuffle. Dozens of uniformed and plain-clothed officers also swarmed in as the skirmish moved from the sidewalk toward the University Games main media center.

Norbert Vollertsen, a German doctor and human rights activist, was knocked to the ground. Riot police formed a cordon around him before he was carried by stretcher to an ambulance. Injured in another human rights protest Friday near the border with North Korea, Dr. Vollertsen was wearing crutches and a neck brace when he arrived at the protest.

Dr. Vollertsen was treated and released from a local hospital. Fellow protester Douglas Shin said Dr. Vollertsen had been vomiting, and that the North Koreans had targeted the German, who once worked in the North and has championed the cause of North Korean asylum-seekers.

Angered by the banners and pictures, at least four North Korean reporters stormed out of the nearby media center and approached the activists.

“What is this? Take that away immediately,” Ri Gwang-nam, one of the reporters, shouted.

Another North Korean reporter punched a South Korean activist who hunkered down with a banner tightly wrapped in his arms. The activists said they fought back in self-defense.

The organizers of the University Games, which began Thursday, were hoping North Korea’s participation would help boost inter-Korean reconciliation ahead of this week’s meeting in Beijing.

Representatives from the United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas are to meet for three days of talks in a bid to ease the nuclear standoff.

More than 7,180 athletes and officials from 172 nations were entered for the 22nd Games, or Universiade.


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