Armies of N.Korean Kids 'Were on Stand-By for Clinton'

      September 10, 2009 09:18

      When former U.S. President Bill Clinton took off from Pyongyang in early August after winning the freedom of two American journalists, he left 40,000-50,000 North Korean children and juveniles despondent.

      North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had prepared a special performance of the "Arirang" mass calisthenics show for Clinton, which was to be attended by an audience of 100,000 Pyongyang residents, North Korean sources say. Kim reportedly asked Clinton three times to watch the show, but the former president changed the subject each time.

      On the day, the 40,000-50,000 children and juveniles were standing by in the sultry heat because nobody knew when instructions would be given to perform. According to one North Korean source, a special order had been given a week before Clinton's visit to Pyongyang. Under the order, the children should be on standby for the "no. 1 event," i.e. a performance attended by Kim.

      The "Arirang mass calisthenics show" (file photo) /Xinhua News Agency

      But when the show was canceled on Aug. 5, all of the young performers were ordered to go home. A North Korean official visiting China said the regime "launched a massive propaganda campaign over Clinton's visit, but after the mass game was canceled, they abruptly changed their tune and started putting out propaganda that you shouldn't trust Americans."

      Any performance attended by Kim is a special event. After he watched an "Arirang" performance with former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in October 2000, Kim gave plentiful gifts to all performers. Producers and senior administrative officials were decorated with special medals and promotions.

      North Korea started the mass shows in the 1970s and began performing them regularly and using them for political purposes in the 1980s, when Kim Jong-il rose to power.

      One former senior North Korean official said, "Kim Jong-il seems to have some disease so he has to show off his power and bolster his confidence by watching a mass gymnastic show performed by tens of thousands of children and juveniles."

      The mass show was renamed "Arirang" in 2002. It is a one-hour-and-20-minute extravaganza in which some 100,000 youngsters often move in perfect unison. The fifth "Arirang" show's opening ceremony was staged on Aug. 10, according to the official Korean Central Broadcasting, after being canceled on Aug. 5.

      The 100,000 students in Pyongyang are mobilized for training in extremely harsh conditions, having to skip classes for six months a year. There have been international charges of child abuse, but North Korea remains undeterred. Amid food shortages and UN sanctions, the conditions for the performers this year are reportedly especially difficult.

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