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(LEAD) N. Korean athletes welcomed at Asian Winter Games

All Headlines 16:18 February 18, 2017

(ATTN: ADDS photo)

SAPPORO, Japan, Feb. 18 (Yonhap) -- North Korean athletes competing at the Asian Winter Games here in Japan received a welcome ceremony on Saturday.

A day after landing in Sapporo for the continental competition, the delegation got a formal welcome at Minami Ward Gymnasium in the southern part of the host city.

North Korea has sent five short trackers and two figure skaters to Sapporo.

Japan has a travel ban on North Korean nationals following Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests, but has made a special exception for the athletes at the weeklong competition kicking off Sunday.

The Sapporo Games won't operate a separate athletes' village -- they've been put up at local hotels -- but they still have named former figure skater Emi Watanabe as athletes' mayor.

North Korean athletes participating in the Asian Winter Games attend the welcome ceremony at Minami Ward Gymnasium in Sapporo, Japan, on Feb. 18, 2017. (Yonhap)

Athletes from Thailand and Malaysia were also welcomed to Sapporo in the 15-minute ceremony.

North Korean athletes are here with their country in the international spotlight over the recent murder of Kim Jong-nam, estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Kim Jong-nam was killed in Malaysia Monday in an apparent assassination. In a touch of irony, the North Korean athletes stood next to participants from Malaysia during the welcome ceremony here.

Shin Yong-guk, chef de mission for North Korea, said the objective was "just to do the best we can."
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