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High Tension Ahead of Japan-North Korea Soccer Game


The sports event at the 60,000 seat Saitama Stadium comes at a time of rising tension between Japan and North Korea, which have no diplomatic relations with each other.

The Japanese public is angry at North Korea and there are growing calls here for economic sanctions against the communist state. The public is demanding Pyongyang reveal all it knows about missing Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean in the 1970s and 1980s.

Japan's government and soccer officials are urging calm, saying politics and sports should not mix.

While no spectators are expected from North Korea, there will be North Korean soccer fans in Saitama stadium - many of them from Japan's 150,000 strong ethnic Korean community.

North Korean coach, Yun Jongsu, answering scripted questions Monday evening presented by a single Japanese reporter, acknowledged the reception for his team, so far, has not been hostile.

Mr. Yun says he appreciates hospitality shown by Koreans in Japan, who gave a warm welcome to the team and his players want to do well for their fans.

Most of the North Korea fans will arrive on buses - a precaution against any possible attacks on them.

Some five thousand seats have been set-aside for the North Korea supporters. To prevent clashes, about a thousand seats on each side of the North Korean section will be kept empty.

As a further security measure, 2,000 police and 113,000 security guards will be on duty in and around the stadium. Fans are being asked to arrive early to ensure adequate time to undergo special security checks.

The Japan Football Association has told Japanese media to keep their distance from the North Korean team's hotel and bus. It is threatening to pull credentials for future events of reporters who do not comply.

To prepare for the soccer game against Japan, North Korea's team - primarily composed of soldiers as well as some ethnic Korean professional players living in Japan - trained in secret on the Chinese island of Hainan from mid-January.

It played a warm-up match against Kuwait, a no-score draw, in China's Hebei Province last week. That game was closed to the public.

Wednesday's contest between Japan and North Korea will be the first of two this year. No matter the outcome, a rematch will be held in Pyongyang's 150,000 seat Kim Il Sung Stadium on June 8.
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