Top leaders of North and South Korea made a rare show of unity on Saturday as the Incheon Asian Games closed in celebratory mood.
Fans turned out in numbers to farewell thousands of athletes who have competed in the South Korean city over the past 15 days.
And North Korea’s de facto number two, Hwang Pyong-So sat near to South Korean Prime Minister Jung Hong-Won in an unusual scene between the rival states who are technically at war.
Hwang and two other top officials are on a surprise visit which marks the highest-level contact in years and will raise hopes of a breakthrough in ties.
Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) president Sheikh Ahmad Al-Falah Al-Sabah declared the 15-day Games closed and then made a heart shape with his arms above his head.
“It’s time for us all to say goodbye to Incheon and goodbye to Korea,” he told the crowd at Incheon Main Stadium, before the OCA flag was lowered.
“The Asian Games are not only about medals, however they are about representing your country, trying your best and taking pride in your flag. They are about sportsmanship and fair play and about friendship and team spirit,” said the Kuwaiti official.
The ceremony, including K-Pop acts and a taekwondo display, ended the Games for another four years until Jakarta hosts the next edition in 2018.
China topped the medals table with 151 golds, roughly a quarter down on their 2010 record haul of 199 and their lowest total in 12 years.
Games attendance has been patchy but a respectable crowd turned out on a chilly evening for the closing ceremony, where K-Pop quartet Sistar, a children’s choir and a Kazakh folk dancer were among the diverse attractions.
South Korean prime minister Jung took his seat in the VIP area and he was shortly joined by North Korea’s Hwang.
Both men stood as a giant South Korean flag was brought into the arena, and they rose again and waved when North Korea’s team entered as part of the athletes’ parade.
One of the biggest cheers of the night was reserved for North Korean weightlifter Kim Un-Guk, a nominee for the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award.
South Korean fans have been supportive and respectful of the North Korean athletes, who are kept segregated from the public and media by tight security.
Hwang’s trip comes at a time when North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has not been seen in public for a month, fuelling speculation about his health and even triggering unsubstantiated rumours of a coup.
Finally the Games flame was extinguished, symbolically marking the end of the regional Olympics with 439 gold medals handed out in 36 sports, plus 17 world records and six doping cases. – Agence France-Presse