SEOUL, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- Political parties collided Monday over a controversial visit to Seoul by a North Korean official who is accused of masterminding deadly military attacks in 2010.
The main opposition Liberty Korea Party staged a massive rally in central Seoul berating the liberal government for embracing Kim Yong Chol as the chief of the North's delegation to the closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics despite his alleged role in the two attacks.
Kim, a vice chairman of the Central Committee of the North's ruling Workers' Party, has been accused of leading the torpedo attack on the South Korean warship Cheonan and the bombardment of the border island of Yeonpyeong. The attacks killed a total of 50 South Koreans.
"We will fight until the end against the Moon Jae-in government that has pressed ahead with its decision to allow the visit by Kim Yong Chol despite public concerns and objections," Kim Sung-tae, the LKP floor leader, said during the rally.
"The raison d'etre of our party is to protect the free democracy system here," he added.
Describing Kim as a "murderer" and "war criminal," conservatives had called for the cancellation of Kim's three-day visit to the South.
They argue that the visit by Kim -- who is under a set of local and international sanctions -- will help the North's "deceptive peace offensive" to weaken the current sanctions regime, sow discord among South Koreans and drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington.
On Sunday, the LKP staged a sit-in in front of a border bridge to block the North Korean delegates from traveling to the South. But their attempt failed as Seoul officials used a different path to safely transport the North's delegation.
Apparently mindful of the political offensive, Moon held a low-key, closed-door meeting with the North's delegation in the northeastern alpine city of Pyeongchang hours before the Olympics' closing ceremony.
The liberal Moon administration has been gingerly striving to use the delegation's visit to maintain the growing momentum of inter-Korean rapprochement, though Washington, its key ally, does not appear to be in sync with its dovish approach, hammering away at the "maximum pressure" campaign.
The centrist Bareunmirae Party joined the chorus of criticism over Kim's visit to the South.
"That Kim Yong Chol, who sparked public outrage, attended the closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang Olympics to celebrate it is against all reason," Park Joo-sun, a co-chair of the party, said during a party meeting.
"It is only natural that the commander-in-chief demand an apology from Kim Yong Chol, the main culprit of the attack on the Cheonan, and if he fails to secure [an apology], it is a humiliation for a sovereign nation," he added.
The ruling Democratic Party hit back, calling on the LKP to stop its political struggle outside the legislature and blaming it for a failure to handle a series of pending bills aimed at improving people's livelihoods.
"If there had been any blemish during the Olympics, it was the behavior of the main opposition party," Choo Mi-ae, the ruling party's leader, said during a party meeting. "It deserves public censure for making citizens feel ashamed of it and undermining national prestige."
The ruling party has argued that there isn't anything seriously wrong about Kim's visit given that he appeared as a key interlocutor in past high-level cross-border talks, including the one held during former president Park Geun-hye's conservative government.