N. Korea starts mass gymnastic show to mark anniversary of founder’s birthday


North Korea has launched a month-long mass gymnastics show as part of festivities to mark the 95th birthday of its late founding leader Kim Il-sung, the country’s new agency reported Sunday.

The Arirang Mass Games opened at Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium on the evening of Saturday, with hundreds of dancers and gymnasts performing against a gigantic backdrop of mosaic pictures formed by thousands students holding up colored panels, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il did not attend the opening show on the eve of his late father’s birthday, the agency said.

The show was held in 2002 and 2005, but was cancelled last year due to floods, causing hundreds of U.S. and Western tourists to cancel their planned trip to one of the world’s last remaining communist state.

This year’s show, which runs about 80 minutes starting at 8 p.m. every day except for Sunday, is expected to continue until May 20, Western tour organizers said.

This year’s show carries special meaning for North Korea, as it will celebrate the 95th anniversary of the birth of the late leader who died of heart failure in 1994. This year also marks the 62nd anniversary of the Korean Peninsula’s liberation from Japan’s colonial rule and the founding of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party.

The first version of Arirang, named after a famous traditional Korean folk song, was held for nearly five months in 2002, with about 100,000 students and ordinary people participating.

At that time, North Korea staged a promotional campaign for the festival, calling it a “once-in-a-millennium” event. Some viewed it as an effort to gain publicity at the time of the World Cup finals co-hosted by South Korea and Japan the same year.


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