Former US basketball star Dennis Rodman sang “Happy Birthday” to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in Pyongyang on Wednesday before joining a game with fellow players to mark the event, a report said.
Rodman has been criticised for failing to address human rights issues or the plight of a jailed American during several visits to the North and to the leader whom he calls his friend for life.
He rebutted the criticism, saying he simply came to celebrate his good friend’s birthday, according to China’s official news agency Xinhua.
“He also said he did feel the love and enthusiasm the DPRK (North Korean) people have for their leader,” Xinhua reported from Pyongyang.
Rodman then sang “Happy Birthday” in front of Kim, “creating a buzz” among the audience, the news agency said.
The heavily tattooed former star arrived on Monday for his fourth trip to the North, along with a team of retired NBA basketball players, for the exhibition game.
Kim, believed aged around 30, just last month oversaw the execution of his powerful uncle and political mentor Jang Song-Thaek on charges of treason and corruption.
His one-party state faces severe international criticism and sanctions for its rights record, nuclear and missile programs and threats of war.
Xinhua said Rodman himself played in the first half of the exhibition game against a North Korean team before changing clothes and joining Kim.
I don’t give a rat’s ass what the hell you think.
They chatted and smoked together while enjoying the game, it said.
The Swiss-educated Kim is reported to be a keen fan of basketball and especially of Rodman’s old team the Chicago Bulls.
Rodman, interviewed at Beijing airport Monday en route to Pyongyang with a group of former NBA players, said he would not raise concerns about repression because leader Kim is his friend and he loves him.
Former NBA players Doug Christie, Craig Hodges and Charles D Smith were also in Rodman’s side for the exhibition game.
On Tuesday the former star angrily refused to answer questions about an American compatriot jailed in the North.
Asked by CNN if he would make the case that jailed American missionary Kenneth Bae should be freed, Rodman grew angry.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass what the hell you think,” Rodman told the interviewer in comments broadcast from the North Korean capital.
He implied that Bae had done something that warranted being thrown into prison, but would not be drawn on what it was.
Bae, a 45-year-old tour operator, was arrested in November 2012 as he entered the northeastern port city of Rason.
The North described him as a Christian evangelist who smuggled inflammatory material into the country and sentenced him to 15 years’ hard labour for allegedly seeking to topple the government.