July 19, 2018 13:02
North Korea is preparing feverishly for the 70th anniversary of the nation's founding on Sept. 9, which will be celebrated by the notorious "mass games" where thousands are forced to shriek, sing and hop about in unison.
It will be the first mass games since the regime suspended the show in 2014 in unclear circumstances.
Above all, the regime hopes to attract tourist dollars with the queasy spectacle, giving it pride of place on the welcome screen of the official tour website Choson Tour.
According to Radio Free Asia on Wednesday, Chinese travel agency Koryo Tours offers no fewer than 11 tour packages that include mass calisthenics performances between Sept. 9 and 30. The cheapest tickets to the show are 80 euros.
South Korean reporters already spotted Pyongyang residents practicing their moves when they were there early this month to cover inter-Korean basketball friendlies. They saw large crowds waving stick balloons about every day in Kim Il-sung Square.
The current incarnation of the mass games, titled "Arirang" after the unofficial Korean anthem, was launched in April 2002 to mark the 90th birthday of regime founder Kim Il-sung. It was performed every year until 2013, except after devastating floods in 2006.
Over 100,000 unfortunate citizens were mobilized in a show of robotic unity.
In a report by the UN Committee for Human Rights in North Korea in 2014, North Korean defectors testified that many children passed out during practice from heat and exhaustion, and at least one boy died because his appendicitis interfered with the display of fanatical loyalty to the regime.
According to some, new leader Kim Jong-un halted the mass games in 2014 to boost his popularity and project a softer image.
"Kim Jong-un suspended the mass calisthenics to boost his soft image after he took power," a government official here said. "But I think he has now revived it for the 70th founding anniversary to celebrate its completion of nuclear weapons development and earn hard currency."
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