DAEGU, South Korea – North Korean reporters traded punches with human rights activists Sunday as tension over the North's suspected nuclear development escalated into violence at the World University Games (search).
The fight erupted as the reporters tried to seize banners critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il from a dozen anti-North Korea protesters. "Down with Kim Jong Il. Rescue our Northern brethren," one banner read.
More than 100 South Korean riot police were at the scene and helped break up the scuffle. Dozens of other uniformed and plain-clothed police officers also swarmed in as the skirmish moved from the sidewalk toward the University Games main media center.
Norbert Vollertsen, a German doctor and human rights activist, was knocked to the ground in the melee. Riot police formed a cordon around him as he lay on the ground before he was carried by stretcher to an ambulance. Vollertsen was wearing a neck brace when he arrived at the protest. His condition was not known.
"Take that away immediately," shouted one North Korean reporter, angered at the banners.
Another reporter punched a South Korean activist who hunkered down with a banner tightly wrapped in his arms. At least two other North Koreans were involved in the scuffle, which lasted almost 10 minutes with a core of young activists among the dozen or so demonstrators.
"You communists! Come here!" shouted young South Korean activists as security officials pulled the North Korean reporters into a nearby building and blocked the activists from entering.
The incident highlighted the tense relations between the two Koreas, which has escalated over the suspected development of North Korea's nuclear arsenal.
The organizers of the University Games were hoping North Korea's participation would help boost inter-Korean reconciliation in the leadup to a crucial summit in Beijing this week.
Representatives from the United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas are scheduled to meet for talks in the Chinese capital on Aug. 27-29 in a bid to ease the nuclear tension.
The Koreas were divided in 1945 and share a heavily fortified border. The 1950-53 Korean War (search) ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, and relations remain tense.