July 30, 2006

North Korea cancels mass games show due to floods

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea has canceled its mass games
spectacle, where it celebrates its military might and communist
ideology, because of flooding that hit the impoverished country
this month, a South Korean official said on Monday.

The 80-minute performances that are part rhythmic
gymnastics floor show, part military parade and part circus act
were scheduled to start on August 15 and run through

"The Arirang mass games have been canceled," a Unification
Ministry official said by telephone.

Leonid Petrov, who specializes in arranging tours to North
Korea, said: "The official reasons named by the North Korean
tourism authorities are the recent torrential rains and the
planned joint military drill 'Ulchi Focus Lens', which will be
performed by the U.S. and South Korean military forces."

Petrov said the mass games festival will be moved to April.

North Korea typically objects to the annual joint drills,
but it has not previously canceled the mass games because of

About 100,000 people take part in the mass games -- called
Arirang after a historic love story -- with some in the floor
show and about 20,000 who make up a wall of flip-cards that
forms the changing backdrop.

The games have increasingly become a source of foreign
currency for the North.

Although the crowds are typically made up of North Koreans,
the communist state sells thousands of tickets to foreigners,
with prices ranging from 240 euros ($306.30) for a box seat to
40 euros for a third-class seat.

In addition, visitors must buy a package tour where they
spend several hundred euros a day for hotels, meals and guides.

Last year 7,000 tourists from South Korea attended. This
year, the North was planning to open its doors to American
tourists, with packages costing about $5,000 to $6,000.

Three major storms hit North Korea in July, raising the
possibility of famine in a country that already battles chronic
food shortages, experts said.

North Korea said flooding has killed hundreds.
International agencies said the death toll exceeds at least 120

($1=.7836 Euro)

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Jang Sera)