PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – The Winter Olympics sparked to life in a vivid, colorful ceremony of fire and ice in South Korea on Friday, and the diplomacy was just as choreographed in the stadium where leaders from nations that are sworn enemies sat close together.
South Korea, which is using the Pyeongchang Games to break the ice with North Korea, seated its president alongside U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, with two of the North’s most senior officials sitting in the row behind.
President Moon Jae-in, who wants to harness the Olympic spirit to pave the way for talks over the North’s nuclear and missile program, shook hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister as well as the North’s nominal head of state.
The South is still technically at war with the North after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, and the United States and the North have recently swapped nuclear threats.
Underlining Moon’s efforts to re-engage with the North, the opening ceremony followed the story line of children wandering through a mythical, snowy landscape and discovering a world where people live in peace and harmony.
The Olympics have provided some respite from years of tense relations between Seoul and Pyongyang, though just hours before the ceremony hundreds of anti-North Korean protesters scuffled with riot police outside the stadium, burning North Korean flags and pictures of its leader, Kim Jong Un.
South Korea’s frigid February, where temperatures have plummeted to minus 20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) at night, has come as a shock to the system for athletes and visitors alike in the leadup to these Games, prompting concerns about hypothermia at the opening ceremony.
The weather was a little milder than forecast on Friday, but spectators still huddled near heaters, holding hot packs and slurping down steaming fishcake soup to ward off the chills.
Bundled up in a scarf, mask and knitted hat, with hot packs tucked into her knee blanket, office worker Shin Hye-sook said she and her three colleagues were coping with the cold.
“It’s okay unless the wind blows,” said the 60-year-old. “We’re sitting as close as we can and trying not to move a lot to save our energy.”
Writing by Peter Rutherford, Additional reporting by James Pearson, Hyunjoo Jin and Jane Chung; Editing by Mark Bendeich
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