Mon, Jul 31, 2006 - Page 5 News List

N Korea cancels annual festival due to flooding

PROLETARIAN GAMES Dozens of the `Arirang' performances were planned from August to October, featuring up to 100,000 performers

AGENCIES , BEIJING AND SEOUL

North Korea has canceled an annual festival of mass games and gymnastic displays because of flood damage and planned joint military exercises by South Korea and the US, a tour operator said yesterday.

"The official reasons named by the NK [North Korean] tourism authorities are the recent torrential rains and the planned joint military drill," Leonid Petrov, executive director of L&J Development and Consultancy, said in a statement.

L&J is one of a handful of foreign companies allowed to take Western tourists into North Korea, which remains largely closed to the outside world.

The next Arirang Mass Games will be held from April 15 to early May and from mid-August to mid-October next year, Petrov said.

North Korean officials said the games early next year were timed to mark the 95th anniversary of the birth of former leader Kim Il-sung and the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army.

The news was confirmed by Yoon Gil-sang, head of the Korean American National Coordinating Council -- widely seen as a propaganda vehicle for the North Korean government -- in a statement on the group's Internet news site.

"North Korea's delegation to the United Nations has informed us that the festival was cancelled due to severe flood damage. It will be resumed next spring," he said.

Dozens of Arirang performances were planned from mid-August to mid-October this year, featuring up to 100,000 North Korean performers.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency also quoted a US-based pro-North Korean group as saying the games were canceled because of storm damage.

Good Friends, an independent South Korean human rights group, said the downpours and flooding caused much more damage than North Korea's state media has claimed, with the center of Pyong-yang partly flooded for the first time in 16 years.

Hundreds of people have been killed or were missing in North Korea after heavy rain caused floods and landslides since mid-July, according to official reports last week.

Tens of thousands of houses and official buildings along with hundreds of roads, bridges and railway tracks were destroyed or damaged, the official North Korean news agency KCNA said.

The neighborhood of Pyong-yang's May Day Stadium, the venue of the gymnastics show, had been severely destroyed by floods, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said.

During the festival, South Korean and North Korean delegates were to hold a joint pro-unification rally in Pyongyang from Aug. 14.

The two Koreas have sponsored pro-unification rallies marking Korea's liberation from Japanese colonial rule each year since a landmark inter-Korean summit in 2000.

Joint US-South Korean military exercises, known as Ulji Focus Lens 2006, are planned for Aug. 21 to Sept. 1. North Korea typically condemns the annual military exercises in the South.

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