UK & World News

  • 8 January 2014, 18:46

Rodman Sings Happy Birthday To Kim Jong-Un

Former US basketball star Dennis Rodman has led a team of retired American players in a game to celebrate the birthday of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

The match in North Korean capital Pyongyang is described by organisers as a "birthday present" for Mr Kim, who attended along with his wife and other senior members of the regime.

The colourful sportsman sang Happy Birthday to the leader, but his side were defeated by the North Korean players chosen to play them.

Speaking before the match, Mr Rodman said: "This is for his birthday, this is his gift.

"This is his gift, from me, from me, from the world.

"I love the guy, the guy is my friend, forever and ever and ever."

The event, along with Mr Rodman's favourable comments for Mr Kim, have attracted significant criticism.

It is almost universally accepted that North Korea has the worst human rights record in the world.

As many as 200,000 political prisoners are locked up in labour camps around the country. Escapees have said that torture is routine.

But Mr Rodman, 52, and other members of his team have repeatedly defended the trip, insisting they are not politicians and are there to provide a sporting exchange.

As he prepared for the game, Mr Rodman said: "We are ready, dude, come on, all you've got to do is one thing, baby. Just give us a ball, man. Guess what, you know, it ain't inventing the wheel. Guess what, we know what we need to do.

"Just go out there and have a good time and let the people of North Korea know.

"Matter of fact, I keep saying this over and over, this is for the world, for the world."

Kim Jong-Un, who executed his uncle last month for treason, is known to be a basketball fan.

Mr Rodman claims the leader has become "friend for life" since the two first met last February.

Photographs and video footage of the two together on three trips last year show them enjoying matches, meals and drinks together.

Earlier this week, Sky News obtained an image showing Mr Rodman riding one of Mr Kim's horses on a ranch outside the North Korean capital.

The North Korean government has made no comment about the basketball players' trip, nor has it even confirmed the official date of Mr Kim's birthday or his age.

Aside from the basketball match, there were no other public events in Pyongyang.

In Washington, the White House said it would not have approved his visit if it had been given any say in the matter.

Other US politicians have also criticised Rodman's decision to fraternise with Mr Kim.

Speaking to Sky News on Monday, Rodman said it was not his job to bring up politics.

However, for the first time he did admit he would use his access to Mr Kim to discuss certain issues "when the time is right".

"I hope that if this opens doors and we can actually talk about certain things, then we can do certain things but I am not going to sit there and go in and say: 'Hey guy, you're doing the wrong thing'. That's not the right thing to do." he said.

In a satellite interview on Tuesday with CNN in the United States, Mr Rodman appeared more confused about his motivation.

Asked whether he thought the trip was appropriate, he reacted with anger.

"You know, you've got 10 guys here, 10 guys here, they've left their families, they've left their damn families, to help this country, in a sports venture," he told the CNN presenter.

"I don't give a rat's ass what the hell you think. I'm saying to you, look at these guys here, look at them... they dared to do one thing, they came here."

One of the other former NBA players, Charles D Smith, then interrupted Rodman to give clarification.

"We just hope the results are positive, and we think that they'll be positive," he said.

"We're doing what we do, we play basketball and that's what we love to do ? We did not know that it was going to take this type of a negative spin on what we were doing because we're not politicians, we're not ambassadors. We're here to do what we've been doing most of our lives."

Mr Smith insisted the event was a "cultural exchange" designed to build bridges between the closed country and the rest of the world.

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