Rodman sings Happy Birthday to North Korean leader

Wed Jan 8, 2014 9:31am EST
 
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

SEOUL (Reuters) - Former U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman led an auditorium of North Koreans in singing "Happy Birthday" to their leader on Wednesday, a day after he 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," 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'."

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.

The visit come 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.   Continued...

 
Former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman (C) is surrounded by journalists as he arrives at the Beijing Capital International Airport to leave for Pyongyang, in Beijing, January 6, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Lee