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North Korean Delegation Requests Meeting with South Korean President


South Koreas official news agency said Saturday that a North Korean delegation in Seoul has asked for a meeting with President Lee Myung-bak.

Quoting an unidentified government official, the Yonhap news agency reported that the North Koreans said they were carrying a message from the North's leader, Chairman Kim Jong Il.

Yonhap said their request was conveyed to South Korea's Unification Minister Hyun In-taek on Saturday.

News of the request came after a meeting in Seoul between Hyun and North Korean spy chief Kim Yang Gon, who also handles inter-Korea matters.

Details of the meeting were not disclosed, but Hyun said before talks opened that he would like to talk about inter-Korean affairs.

The two Koreas have long been at odds, having only signed an armistice to stop the fighting at the end of the Korean War in 1953.

The North Korean intelligence chief is leading a delegation of six members to Seoul to pay respects to former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who died Tuesday.

On Friday, the North Koreans bowed their heads and laid a wreath in front of a large portrait of the late South Korean leader.

President Kim was revered by many on both sides of the Korean peninsula for his efforts to reconcile the two Koreas. In 2000 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and held a landmark summit with North Korean leader, Kim Jong II.

The North Korean delegation is set to leave before the official funeral Sunday.

This was the first time North Korea ever sent a delegation to mourn a South Korean leader, and it is the first time in nearly two years that North Korean officials have visited South Korea.

Dozens of South Korean protesters demonstrated Friday near the hotel where the North's delegation is staying. The demonstrators burned a North Korean flag and a photograph of Kim Jong Il.

Also Friday, North Korea announced it is ending restrictions it imposed last year on cross-border traffic with South Korea.

The United States announced Friday that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will head the U.S. delegation at the funeral of Mr. Kim.

Kim Dae-jung served as South Korea's president from 1998 to 2003.

Some South Koreans criticized his policy of opening up relations with North Korea, saying it ignored North Korea's efforts to obtain nuclear weapons and massive human rights violations.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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