Protests as unified Korean hockey team debuts ahead of Olympics

The addition of North Korean players provokes controversy in the South.

Park Jong-Ah (C) of the Unified Korean team fights for the puck with Sweden's Emilia Ramboldt (R) during a women's ice hockey practice match between Sweden and a Unified Korean team.   -  AFP

Demonstrators stomped on a picture of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on Sunday as rival protests broke out before the first practice match by a joint North and South Korean female hockey team.

The unified team for the Pyeongchang Olympics is a product of a landmark deal between the two rivals following a year of high tensions over the nuclear-armed North's weapons ambitions.

Read: North Korea defends military parade before Olympics

But the addition of North Korean players has provoked controversy in the South with accusations that Seoul is depriving some of its own players of the chance to compete at a home Olympics for political purposes.

The joint team of North and South Korean female hockey players tested the ice for the first time in a warm-up match against Sweden, five days before the Winter Games officially open.

The capacity 3,000 crowd roared as the team -- including four North Koreans -- glided onto the ice at the Seonhak International Ice Rink in Incheon, wearing blue and red uniforms with KOREA emblazoned across their chests.

But outside the arena tension mounted and security was tight.

Those in favour of the North Korean presence chanted "Peace Olympics", while protesters just across the street shouted ironically, "Pyongyang Olympics," suggesting the North had been allowed to hijack the Pyeongchang Games.

Dozens of protesters yelled criticisms of the North into amplified speakers, trampling on a picture of leader Kim and ripping up unification flags.

The practice match against Sweden was the first game for the unified team since 12 North Koreans joined the southerners on January 25.

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