Arirang 2006 cancelled

from the BBC:

N Korea cancels gymnastics gala

North Korea has cancelled a massive festival featuring thousands of gymnasts, soldiers and performers because of flooding earlier this month.

The two-month long Arirang festival has in the past been popular with western tourists and visitors from South Korea.

The event features spectacular synchronised acrobatic displays and is seen by Pyongyang as a way of boosting leader Kim Jong-il’s popularity.

Floods in North Korea this month killed more than 100 people.

According to the UN’s food agency, some 60,000 people were left homeless by the floods, which followed torrential rains.

Strained relations

Han Song Ryol, a North Korean envoy to the United Nations, told the Associated Press news agency the festival had been “cancelled due to flood damages”.

He did not say whether the event would be rescheduled.

Pyongyang had planned to invite up to 600 tourists every day from South Korea to see the festival, South Korean news agency Yonhap reports.

The agency said South Korean officials were concerned that the cancellation of the festival could lead to contacts between the two Koreas being curtailed.

Relations between the two countries are already strained over Pyongyang’s recent decision to test new, long-range missiles, ending a self-imposed moratorium on such tests.

Froom Joong Ang Daily:

Citing flooding, North pushes back a festival
July 31, 2006

The North Korean Arirang festival, which was to have begun on Aug. 15, was postponed until next spring, according to the president of the Korean American National Coordinating Council. Rain damage in North Korea was cited as the reason for the delay.

Yoon Kil-sang, the president of the council, posted the postponement announcement Friday (in the United States) on Minjok, an Internet news site there. He said he was notified by the North Korean mission to the United Nations of the postponement.

But South Korean groups said they knew nothing of the change of plans. An official at the South Korean committee preparing for a joint celebration of Liberation Day, Aug. 15, said the committee had not been told.

“In order to prepare for the Arirang festival, working-level meetings should have been nearly finished, but we have not heard from the North,” the official said.

Despite the recent North Korean missile test salvo, Seoul said last week that it would allow a private South Korean delegation to participate in the holiday commemoration and the festival.

Chosun Shinbo, published by a pro-Pyongyang group in Japan, reported on Friday that an area where the festival was to be held was hit hard by recent flooding. It said 1,200 trees were down and roads had been destroyed.

The Arirang Festival, which was first held in 2002, is a patriotic festival praising the country’s leaders and system using phalanxes of people with flash cards, dances and circus shows. Last year, in its second staging, 7,000 South Koreans attended. The festival was originally scheduled to run from mid-August to mid-October.

Separately, in a relatively rare admission of problems in paradise, the Chosun Shinbo also reported in detail on the flood damage in the North. Reportedly, the Pyongan provinces near Pyongyang were hit hard, with 10,000 people affected by floods and 30 bridges destroyed. North Hwanghae province, the agricultural center for much of the country, also suffered substantial damage, the newspaper reported.

Last week, the United Nations World Food Program estimated that 60,000 North Koreans had been left homeless and 30,000 hectares of farmland were destroyed in the recent flooding.

Kwon Tae-jin, a researcher for the Korea Rural Economic Institute, said yesterday that it took several years for the North to repair damage from a flood in the mid 1990s and that the recent flood was likely to cut into food production substantially. But he said if paddy walls could be rebuilt quickly and quarantine measures taken to prevent the spread of disease, damage could be minimized.

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