News / Asia

    Rodman Celebrates North Korean Leader's Birthday After Outcry

    Rodman Sings Happy Birthday to N. Korea's Kim Jong Uni
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    January 08, 2014 2:57 PM
    Retired U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman led North Koreans in singing "Happy Birthday" to the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, before a planned basketball game Wednesday in Pyongyang.
    Rodman Sings Happy Birthday to N. Korea's Kim Jong Un
    Reuters
    Dennis Rodman led an auditorium of North Koreans in singing “Happy Birthday” to their leader on Wednesday, a day after the former U.S. basketball star sparked controversy by appearing to suggest a Korean-American was to blame for his captivity in North Korea.

    Rodman brought a team of fellow former National Basketball Association stars to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, to mark the birthday of leader Kim Jong Un with an exhibition game. The birthday is believed to have been on Wednesday though that has not been confirmed.

    “It started out as surreal, then people joined in and it sort of faded a bit, but it seemed pretty heartfelt from Rodman's side,” said Simon Cockerell, a tour guide who watched the game in Pyongyang, said of Rodman's birthday singing.

    “It was unexpected, and probably unplanned,” he said. “Kim Jong Un appeared to smile, but he didn't appear to expect it.”

    Cockerell, whose company Koryo Tours took a group of tourists to the game, said the audience had stood and cheered Kim for up to six minutes when he appeared with his wife.

    “Dennis Rodman gave a charmingly shambolic speech where he thanked Kim Jong Un and his wife for showing up, along with the other players for being brave enough to come with him and join in his 'engagement effort,'” he said.

    This was Rodman's fourth trip to Pyongyang. On previous visits, he spent time dining as a guest of Kim, with whom he says he has a genuine friendship, though he did not meet Kim on his third trip.

    FILE - Kim Jong-Un (R) applauding at the Unhasu orchestra concert at the People's Theatre in Pyongyang, as his uncle,Jang Song-Thaek, looks on.FILE - Kim Jong-Un (R) applauding at the Unhasu orchestra concert at the People's Theatre in Pyongyang, as his uncle,Jang Song-Thaek, looks on.
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    FILE - Kim Jong-Un (R) applauding at the Unhasu orchestra concert at the People's Theatre in Pyongyang, as his uncle,Jang Song-Thaek, looks on.
    FILE - Kim Jong-Un (R) applauding at the Unhasu orchestra concert at the People's Theatre in Pyongyang, as his uncle,Jang Song-Thaek, looks on.
    The visit comes weeks after the execution of Kim's uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who until then was one of the most powerful figures. South Korean President Park Geun-hye has described events in North Korea as a “reign of terror.”

    Rodman has said he would not interfere in North Korea's politics but he raised an outcry at home when, in a television interview on Tuesday, he appeared to suggest that Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae was to blame for his captivity.

    During an expletive-ridden interview with CNN about his trip, Rodman seemed to say Bae, held in North Korea since November 2012 and convicted in May on charges of crimes against the state, was responsible for his situation.

    “If you understand what Kenneth Bae did ... Do you understand what he did in this country? Why is he held captive in this country?” Rodman said, declining to respond to questions to clarify what he meant.

    FILE - Kenneth Bae being interviewed by Japanese pro-North Korea newspaper Choson Sinbo at North Korean labor camp, June 26, 2013.FILE - Kenneth Bae being interviewed by Japanese pro-North Korea newspaper Choson Sinbo at North Korean labor camp, June 26, 2013.
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    FILE - Kenneth Bae being interviewed by Japanese pro-North Korea newspaper Choson Sinbo at North Korean labor camp, June 26, 2013.
    FILE - Kenneth Bae being interviewed by Japanese pro-North Korea newspaper Choson Sinbo at North Korean labor camp, June 26, 2013.
    Bae's sister, Terri Chung, said her family was “outraged” by his comments and he could “do a lot of good” by using his access to the North Korea leader to advocate on Bae's behalf, rather than “hurl outrageous accusations” at her brother.

    “He is playing games with my brother's life,” Chung said in a statement. “There is no diplomacy, only games, and at my brother's expense.”

    “He is clearly uninformed about Kenneth's case, and he is certainly not in any position to pass judgment,” Chung said, adding that Bae never had hostile intentions against the state.

    “Only 31”

    Asked about Rodman's comments, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters, “I'm not going to dignify that outburst with a response,” emphasizing that the trip was private travel that was not endorsed by the U.S. government.

    “I'm simply going to say that we remain gravely concerned about Kenneth Bae's health, and continue to urge DPRK authorities to grant his amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” Carney said.

    Bae, 45, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for state subversion in North Korea. He was detained in 2012 as he led a tour group through the northern region of the country. The country's Supreme Court said he used his tourism business to form groups aimed at overthrowing the government.

    FILE - Myunghee Bae, the mother of Kenneth Bae, is pictured during an interview with Reuters in Lynnwood, Washington, Aug. 7, 2013.FILE - Myunghee Bae, the mother of Kenneth Bae, is pictured during an interview with Reuters in Lynnwood, Washington, Aug. 7, 2013.
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    FILE - Myunghee Bae, the mother of Kenneth Bae, is pictured during an interview with Reuters in Lynnwood, Washington, Aug. 7, 2013.
    FILE - Myunghee Bae, the mother of Kenneth Bae, is pictured during an interview with Reuters in Lynnwood, Washington, Aug. 7, 2013.
    Following a visit to her son in October, Bae's mother, Myunghee Bae, said her son was “alone and ailing.”

    A devout Christian, Bae has acknowledged he conducted religious services in North Korea, which has long been hostile to Westerners advocating religious causes.

    U.S. Representative Eliot Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, criticized Rodman and the other Americans for what he called an “ill-advised” trip.

    “As North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un continues to starve and oppress his citizens, it is unthinkable that a few fading celebrities would use such an opportunity to reward his brutal regime,” he said.

    Rodman has faced both ridicule and harsh criticism for his trips to North Korea, which some U.S. politicians and activists view as serving only as fodder for North Korean propaganda.

    But he defended his visit, saying it would help “open the door” and was a “great idea for the world.”

    “It's amazing how we thrive on negativity. Does anyone know this guy's only 31 years old?” he said of Kim, whom he calls his friend.

    “Dennis, he could be 31, he could be 51,” said CNN interviewer Chris Cuomo. “He's just killed his uncle. He's holding an American hostage.”

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Kafantaris from: Warren, Ohio
    January 08, 2014 1:46 PM
    Sometimes all you've got is the three-legged dog that wants to go hunt in the woods. And he can't see from the other eye to be of much use.

    by: Markt from: Virginia
    January 08, 2014 11:30 AM
    If Rodman likes North Korea so much, and considers their leader a friend, then by all means, move there Rodman and don't come back. If he thinks he is the 'face' and 'voice' of America in North Korea, then we are in serious trouble. The North Koreans are probably laughing at him, and us, because of this.

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