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Regional News

South Korea seeks to boost slow Olympic ticket sales

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — With five months to go before the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics open, the Games are barely an afterthought for most South Koreans.

Local ticket sales are slow amid the biggest political scandal in years and a torrent of North Korean weapons tests.

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In this Feb. 3, 2017 photo, a man walks by the Olympic rings with a sign of 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.  AP

Organizers want more than a million spectators for the Games, which start in February, and expect 70 percent of those to be locals. But if South Koreans are excited about the Olympics, they didn’t fully show it during the first phase of ticket sales between February and June — the 52,000 tickets purchased by locals during the period were less than 7 percent of the 750,000 seats organizers aim to sell domestically.

International sales got off to a faster start with more than half of the targeted 320,000 seats sold. But now there’s concern that an increasingly belligerent North Korea, which has tested two ICBMs and its strongest ever nuclear bomb in recent weeks, might keep foreign fans away from Pyeongchang, a ski resort town about 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of the world’s most heavily armed border.

South Korean organizers relaunched online ticket sales on Sept. 5 and hope for a late surge in domestic sales as the Games draw closer. Locals purchased nearly 17,000 tickets on the first two days of resumed sales.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Lee Hee-beom, president of Pyeongchang’s organizing committee, said the North is highly unlikely to cause problems during the Olympics because North Korean athletes could compete in the South. This is not yet clear, though. North Korea is traditionally weak at winter sports, though a figure skating pair has a chance to qualify and organizers are looking at ways to arrange special entries for North Korean athletes.

Lee also linked his optimism about ticket sales to South Korean experience managing past global events, including the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, three Asian Games and the 2002 World Cup soccer tournament.

“This is a country that sold more than 8 million tickets even for the Expo 2012 in Yeosu,” said Lee, 68, a former Cabinet minister and corporate CEO. “We can definitely handle a million tickets.”