07/31/2006, 00.00
NORTH KOREA
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Pyongyang cancels propaganda festival due to floods

The Arirang, the apple of the eye of the regime's propaganda, was cancelled because of damages caused by the July floods that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The North Korean government has called off a big annual propaganda festival scheduled for next month in Pyongyang, because of floods that wrecked parts of the territory and of the capital itself.

Han Song-ryol, vice chairman of North Korea's mission to the UN, said the event, known as the "mass games", had been called off "due to flood damages". Han did not say whether the two-month spectacle - which usually climaxes with a synchronized gymnastics display featuring 100,000 performers - would be staged later.

Called Arirang, the festival is the apple of the eye of the regime's propaganda: it is intended to pay tribute to the "spiritual and political" legacy of the founder of the nation, Kim Il-Sung, and to enhance the people's love for the new leader, his son, Kim Jong-Il.

The country was hit by a typhoon on July 10: floods killed at least 154 people and left at least 127 others missing, according to the UN. Official media said the disaster caused "hundreds" of casualties, with roads, bridges, railroads and communications cut.

The South Korean human rights group, Good Friends, said almost 3,000 people were believed to be dead or missing. The group has previously provided accurate information about the North Korean situation. A spokesman said: "The centre of Pyongyang had been partly flooded for the first time in 16 years."

"The neighbourhood of Pyongyang's May Day Stadium, the venue of the mass gymnastics show, had been severely destroyed by floods," said Yonhap news agency.

Damage caused by the floods have heightened concern among the international community about scarce food rations for the people: North Korea is incapable of feeding its residents without overseas aid, but this has been suspended because of missile test launches on 4 July which, according to Japanese military sources, were a "complete flop from a technical point of view".

The Taepodong 2, fired on 5 July from the North Korean coast in the direction of Japan, is reported to have exploded 40 seconds after launch, falling 1.5km away from its launch pad. This was confirmed by American satellite pictures and by anonymous Japanese military sources.

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