Former NBA star Dennis Rodman has angrily defended his visit to North Korea, ahead of a basketball game to mark Kim Jong-un’s birthday.
In an interview with CNN, Dennis Rodman was asked if he would raise the issue of a US citizen jailed in North Korea.
Dennis Rodman responded with a rant that at one point appeared to point blame at the man, Kenneth Bae.
His visit has been criticized by rights groups, with Washington making it clear he does not represent the US.
His team of former NBA players will take on a North Korean team in an exhibition match later on Wednesday in Pyongyang.
Dennis Rodman says the match is to celebrate Kim Jong-un’s birthday, although his official birthday and age have not been confirmed.
It comes weeks after the execution of Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Jang Sung-taek, once seen as a major power in North Korea. His rapid and brutal purge has sparked concern over stability inside the country.
Dennis Rodman has angrily defended his visit to North Korea, ahead of a basketball game to mark Kim Jong-un’s birthday
Meanwhile, state news agency KCNA has announced that elections for North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament will be held on March 9 – something which could provide a hint of who the key players are in the wake of Jang Sung-taek’s execution.
This visit is Dennis Rodman’s fourth to North Korea. He has in the past described Kim Jong-un as a friend and says he is on a “basketball diplomacy” mission. He remains the highest-profile American to have met the young leader.
Dennis Rodman had been asked several times in the past whether he could use his relationship with Kim Jong-un to discuss Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in May 2013.
North Korea said that Kenneth Bae – described as both a tour operator and Christian missionary – had used his tourism business to plot sedition.
Asked again in the CNN interview, Dennis Rodman appeared to lose his cool, saying: “If you understand what Kenneth Bae did … Do you understand what he did in this country? … I would love to speak on this.”
Dennis Rodman’s visit was about opening “the door a little bit”, he said, even though the team would have “to go back to America and take the abuse”.
A White House spokesman declined to comment on Dennis Rodman’s remarks, but reiterated a call for North Korea to release Kenneth Bae – who is suffering from ill health – on humanitarian grounds.
Former NBA star Charles D. Smith, meanwhile, told the Associated Press news agency that he felt “remorse” for participating in the trip amid the backlash in the US.
“I feel a lot of remorse for the guys because we are doing something positive, but it’s a lot bigger than us. We are not naive, we understand why things are being portrayed the way they are.”
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman has arrived in North Korea along with a team for a match marking leader Kim Jong-un’s birthday.
Dennis Rodman, 52, and the team of former NBA players flew from Beijing on Monday ahead of Wednesday’s match.
The sportsman said his aim was to “connect two countries”.
State Department officials have made it clear Dennis Rodman does not represent the US.
Dennis Rodman has also been strongly criticized for ignoring North Korea’s human rights abuses.
Dennis Rodman has arrived in North Korea along with a team for a match marking leader Kim Jong-un’s birthday
He last visited North Korea in December, shortly after the execution of Jang Sung-taek.
The fall of Kim Jong-un’s once-powerful uncle was seen as a major shake-up at the very top of Pyongyang’s elite.
On that visit, Dennis Rodman’s third, he did not meet Kim Jong-un, who is reported to be a basketball fan. He has met the young leader on his other two previous visits, however, and is the highest-profile American to have done so.
This time, Dennis Rodman leads a squad of players on a trip he is describing as “basketball diplomacy”. The squad will play a North Korean team in an exhibition match.
Dennis Rodman’s unprecedented access to North Korea’s young leader has drawn questions over the impact of his visits to a country criticized for its repressive system of brutal political prison camps.
South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye has convened a meeting of security officials after the shock execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Jang Sung-taek.
Ahead of the meeting Park Geun-hye warned of possible “reckless provocations” by the North and called for increased border vigilance.
Last week’s execution of Jang Sung-taek left the region in a “grave and unpredictable” situation, she said.
Jang Sung-taek, a key figure in North Korea, was executed for allegedly planning a coup.
President Park Geun-hye has convened a meeting of security officials after the shock execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle
The move – together with the recall of a North Korean business team from China – prompted concerns that Jang Sung-taek’s associates were being purged as part of a campaign by Kim Jong-un to consolidate his power.
China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said he believed an “important change” was taking place inside North Korea.
China – which in state media has called for Kim Jong-un to visit Beijing – was “closely watching” the situation, Wang Yi said.
“Given the latest development in the North, it is uncertain in what direction its political situation would evolve,” Park Geun-hye said early on Monday.
“We also can’t rule out the possibility of contingencies such as reckless provocations,” she added.
President Park Geun-hye later met her foreign affairs and security officials in a specially convened session to discuss events in the North.
Just days after Jang Sung-taek’s execution, the North Korean business people have been recalled from China, says a South Korean report.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may be purging associates of Jang Sung-taek, who was in charge of economic ties with China.
Kim Jong-un has been pictured by state media for the first time since the execution of his uncle Jang Sung-taek.
The South Korean government believes Kim Jong-un is trying to consolidate his power through a reign of terror.
The execution of Jang Sung-taek raised international concern about the stability of the nuclear-armed state.
North Korea has summoned back business people working out of the north-eastern Chinese cities of Shenyang and Dandong, sources told the South Korean news agency Yonhap.
They are in China to enhance bilateral trade and investment.
Kim Jong-un has been pictured by state media for the first time since the execution of his uncle Jang Sung-taek
Another source told the agency Pyongyang planned to bring all officials and staff home from China in stages.
It appeared to be a crackdown on those perceived as loyal to Jang Sung-taek, Yonhap said.
It could also be another sign that Jang Sung-taek’s downfall reflected discomfort at his enthusiasm for Chinese-style economic reform.
There have been other reports over recent days about officials being recalled to North Korea from abroad.
South Korean intelligence officials say two of Jang Sung-taek’s closest aides were executed last month, and analysts suggest the purging of such a high-profile figure is unlikely to take place without a “ripple effect” – a purge of others linked to them.
Kim Jong-un was pictured in photographs released by state media for the first time since the dramatic execution of Jang Sung-taek on Thursday following a military trial.
He was shown touring a military design institute, trailed by military officers, many taking notes. Among them was Kim Jong-un’s personal envoy, Vice-Marshal Choe Ryong-hae.
The pictures appeared designed to demonstrate Kim Jong-un’s continuing hold on power and “business as usual” for the North Korean leadership, said commentators.
The images will also be scrutinized for clues to Kim Jong-un’s inner circle, analysts say.
Among those pictured in the latest photographs are believed Hwang Pyong-so, vice departmental director of Party Central Committee (not in military uniform), Choe Ryong-hae, vice-marshal of the armed forces, and Jang Jong-nam, the nation’s new defense minister.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Jang Sung-taek, has been executed after being purged for “acts of treachery”, state media say.
Jang Sung-taek was dramatically removed from a Communist Party session by armed guards earlier this week.
It was the biggest upheaval since Kim Jong-un succeeded his father two years ago.
State news agency KCNA said Jang Sung-taek had admitted at a military trial on Thursday to attempting to overthrow the state, and was executed immediately.
Jang Sung-taek, who is thought to have mentored his nephew during the leadership transition from Kim Jong-il to his son Kim Jong-un in 2011, was “worse than a dog”, said the agency.
He had admitted abusing his positions of responsibility to form a faction against the state and to harboring his own political ambitions, it said in a lengthy and detailed report.
The White House said it could not independently verify the reports but had “no reason to doubt” them.
“If confirmed, this is another example of the extreme brutality of the North Korean regime. We are following developments in North Korea closely and consulting with our allies and partners in the region,” it said in a statement.
Jang Sung-taek – married to the elder Kim Jong-il’s sister – had held senior posts in the ruling party and the National Defense Commission, the North’s top military body.
He was frequently pictured alongside his nephew and seen by some observers as the power behind the throne.
But in early December, it emerged that he had been removed from his senior military position and that two of his aides had been executed.
Then on Monday, KCNA broadcast footage of him being removed from a party session by uniformed guards.
Jang Sung-taek has been executed after being purged for acts of treachery
In a long report on Friday, KCNA described Jang Sung-taek as a “traitor” and “human scum”.
It said: “Chang dreamed such a foolish dream that once he seizes power by a base method, his despicable true colors as <<reformist>> known to the outside world would help his <<new government>> get <<recognized>> by foreign countries in a short span of time.”
KCNA also said Jang Sung-taek:
Attempted to “overthrow the state”
Transformed his department into “a ‘little kingdom'” and attempted to “trigger off discontent” within the army to mobilize a coup
Took control of the “major economic fields of the country” and “schemed to drive the economy of the country and people’s living into an uncontrollable catastrophe”
Committed corruption by transferring construction units to his contacts
Committed irregularities related to a joint economic zone with China, Rason
Was responsible for unpopular currency reforms in 2009. In December 2009 Pyongyang’s reported redenomination of the won knocked two zeros off the nominal value of each banknote.
Jang Sung-taek admitted his “crimes” in court and a death sentence was “immediately executed”, KCNA said.
Analysts say his fall from grace could be seen as the latest in a series of carefully calibrated moves to demonstrate Kim Jong-un’s authority and an assertion of his independence.
In August 2012, Jang Sung-taek made a high profile trip to China, where he met then-President Hu Jintao. The two sides later signed a raft of economic deals, including the development of two special economic zones: Rason, on North Korea’s east coast, and Hwanggumphyong, on the border with China.
As news of the purge emerged earlier this week, South Korean President Park Geun-hye warned the North was “carrying out a reign of terror” to reinforce Kim Jong-il’s position.
She said the volatile relationship between the two countries was likely to become “more unstable” as a result.
On Friday, South Korea’s military said it had tightened surveillance on Pyongyang, news agency Yonhap reported.
Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Eyi-do said the government had “deep concerns” about the latest developments and was “watching the situation closely”.
Meanwhile, Japan’s top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said: “We will calmly monitor the situation while communicating with other countries and collect relevant information.”
Chinese state media reported on Jang Sung-taek’s execution, but there has been no official government response so far.
Who is Jang Sung-taek:
Born 1946, he married Kim Jong-il’s sister in 1972
Joined Korean Workers’ Party administrative ranks in 1970s
Elected to Central Committee in 1992
Sidelined in 2004, but rehabilitated in 2006
2011: Got top military post under Kim Jong-un
November 2013: Dismissed from his position
December 2013: Executed as a “traitor”[youtube rsiqP8eIA9o 650]
North Korean state television KCNA has broadcast images of Jang Sung-taek – the once powerful uncle of leader Kim Jong-un – being removed from a meeting, confirming reports of his dismissal.
The dramatic images show Jang Sung-taek being escorted from a party session by uniformed guards.
The television accused Jang Sung-taek of forming factions against the state, corruption and “depraved” acts such as womanizing and drug abuse.
Analysts say such a public dismissal is unique and could signal a wider purge.
It is the biggest upheaval in North Korea’s leadership since Kim Jong-un succeeded his father Kim Jongil two years ago.
The KCNA state news agency said the decision was announced after a meeting of the ruling communist Korean Workers’ Party Politburo over the weekend.
News of Jang Sung-taek’s dismissal filtered out in South Korea last week along with reports that two of his close aides had been executed for corruption. It is unclear when these latest images date from.
Jang Sung-taek escorted from a party session by uniformed guards
The KCNA report accuses Jang Sung-taek of being part of a faction working against the North Korean state.
“Jang pretended to uphold the party and leader but was engrossed in such factional acts as dreaming different dreams and involving himself in double-dealing behind the scenes.”
It also accused Jang Sung-taek of offences such as financial mismanagement and selling off national resources for his personal gain, but it also denounced him for leading what it called “a dissolute and depraved life”.
“Ideologically sick and extremely idle and easy-going, he used drugs and squandered foreign currency at casinos while he was receiving medical treatment in a foreign country under the care of the party,” the KCNA report said.
It added that Jang Sung-taek had “improper relations” with several women and “was wined and dined at back parlors of deluxe restaurants”.
Such an official announcement detailing a leader’s alleged crimes is unique.
Almost overnight, Jang Sung-taek has morphed from uncle and mentor to North Korea’s young leader, to “anti-revolutionary” criminal outcast.
The move could be seen as the latest in a series of carefully calibrated moves to demonstrate Kim Jong-un’s control, yet another sign of his authority and an assertion of his independence.
Jang Sung-taek is reported to have been stripped of all his positions and expelled from the party.
On Saturday, North Korean state TV was also reported to have removed footage of Jang Sung-taek from a documentary.