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S. Korea: Roh Expresses Regret Over Anti-North Protests - 2003-08-19


North Korea has reversed its earlier decision to boycott a sports event in South Korea, after the South's president expressed regret for recent anti-Pyongyang protests. It appears that North Korea will participate in the World University Games, which begin Thursday in South Korea.

South Korea's Unification Ministry confirmed the North's change of heart, which came at a meeting Tuesday. The news came just hours after President Roh Moo-hyun met with aides to discuss North Korea's announcement on Monday that it would boycott the games, in retaliation for recent anti-Pyongyang demonstrations.

President Roh told his aides that last Friday's protest, in which conservatives burned North Korean flags and portraits of the North's leader Kim Jong Il - was inappropriate. The president says he hoped such protests would not be repeated and he instructed his cabinet to express regrets to North Korea.

North Korean state media had demanded an official apology for what they called the rowdyism displayed by the mostly elderly, rightwing demonstrators in the South.

During the protest on Korea's Liberation Day, demonstrators condemned Pyongyang's plans to build nuclear weapons and called on Kim Jong Il to resign.

In addition to announcing the boycott of the 10-day college athletic event, North Korean officials did not show up for Monday's scheduled exchange of economic and investment documents at the border.

The two Koreas have carried out a number of cultural and sports exchanges since their leaders held a summit three years ago. The events have continued over the past year, despite rising tension over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

North Korea's weapons programs violate several international accords, including a pact with the South to keep the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Roh's conciliatory expression of regret is not likely to be well received by the opposition Grand National Party and many older, conservative South Koreans who have accused the president of being too soft on North Korea.

North and South Korea are technically still at war because hostilities in the Korean War in the early 1950s ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.