Asiad takes down national flags over North Korea protest fears

SEOUL, South Korea – Organizers of the upcoming Asian Games in the South Korean city of Incheon have removed all national flags from streets near the venues amid protests about the flying of the North Korean flag.

"Between late Wednesday and early Thursday, September 11, the national flags were all removed from the streets," an Asian Games organizing committee spokesman told Agence France-Presse.

The move followed protests by anti-North Korean activists about the appearance of the North Korean flag in the venue neighborhoods.

"We decided to withdraw the North Korean national flag along with all the other national flags," the spokesman said.

The Yonhap news agency reported that the organizers were mainly concerned about the possibility of the North Korean flags being vandalized.

The national flags will still fly at all the venues, but the ones outside have been replaced by Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) flags and others showing the Games' emblem.

The flags of participating nations had originally decorated streets near the main Games stadium at Incheon, outside the swimming and equestrian event venues and around a football stadium in Goyang city north of Seoul.

A Goyang municipal spokesman said conservative activists had peppered local officials with phone calls and texts protesting the flying of the North Korean flag.

North Korea is sending a 273-member delegation to the Asiad, which begins September 19. The first batch of athletes and officials was due to fly in to Incheon later Thursday.

North Korean flags were flown along with those of other nations in the streets during the 2002 Asian Games in Busan and the 2003 Universiade in Daegu.

OCA rules dictate that national flags should be displayed in all stadiums and "their neighborhood" – but the organizing committee spokesman said the definition of neighborhood was vague.

There was no immediate reaction from the OCA to the flag changes.

The North's participation in the Incheon Asiad was only confirmed after months of tortuous, heated negotiations that coincided with a spike in military tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Arguments over the size of the North Korean flag and Seoul's refusal to foot the entire North delegation's bill saw Pyongyang threaten a boycott over the South's "arrogance." –