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2008/08/07 11:02 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 15 (August 7, 2008)

   *** NEWS IN BRIEF (Part 1)

First North Korean Olympic Squad Arrives in Beijing

BEIJING (Yonhap) -- Swarmed by scores of reporters, North Korea's national Olympic squad arrived in Beijing on Aug. 2, with the athletes keeping comments to a minimum on their expectations for the Games.

   Some 30 North Korean athletes led by Park Hak-seon, commissioner of the country's Olympic committee, exited Beijing Capital International Airport at around 10:20 a.m. after arriving from Pyongyang via an Air Koryo flight some 30 minutes earlier.

   The exact number of the first group, which hurriedly boarded a bus headed to the Olympic village after making its way through a mass of some 100 reporters, was not immediately confirmed.

   Some prominent athletes such as Rim Yong-soo, an Asian Games weight lifting silver medalist, and Cha Kum-chol, a strong gold medal contender for the 56-kilogram weightlifting competition, were spotted within the group.

   A total of sixty-three North Korean athletes have qualified to compete in 11 sports in the Beijing Games, which end on Aug. 24.

   The country has greatly slipped in medal standings since, failing to gain a single gold in Athens four years ago, as its authoritarian regime's global image suffered further setbacks amid an international standoff over its nuclear arms.


Extravaganza Show 'Arirang' Staged in Pyongyang

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's mass game extravaganza Arirang opened in Pyongyang on Aug. 4, apparently in a bid to attract foreign tourists ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games' opening on Aug. 8 in neighbouring China.

   The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the year's first presentation of the grand gymnastic and artistic performance was staged at the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang.

   The opening marked the fourth ever Arirang festival, which began in 2002 on the occasion of the 90th birth anniversary of the late North's founder Kim Il-sung. The show was also held in 2005 and 2007.

   The performers newly created a scene entitled "Silk Producing Girls in Nyongbyon," the KCNA said. Nyongbyon or Yongbyon is the place where the North's cooling tower of nuclear reactor was demolished in a media spectacle late June as a demonstration of its committment to nuclear disablement.

   "The performers presented a three-dimensional fascinating extravaganza, a good combination of elegant music and dances, dynamic mass gymnastic movement, super-large screens, the ever-changing background of the stadium, splendid electronic displays, laser lightning, etc," the KCNA said.

   The performance mobilizing as many as 100,000 people, which will be staged until the end of September, was enjoyed by the North's officials led by Kwak Pom-gi, vice premier of the Cabinet, along with foreign guests, the news outlet added.

   Meanwhile, the North allowed the APTN, which has an office in Pyongyang, to broadcast edited footage of Arirang, while releasing to its souvenir shops handmade dolls that embody Arirang's main characters.


Torrential Rains Hit North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Torrential rains that hit North Korea in recent days have damaged crops and affected other parts of the nation's economy, the North's state media said on Aug. 4.

   The news came as North Korea faces one of its most dire food shortages in history caused by floods and economic mismanagement.

   "The recent downpours inflicted heavy losses to various sectors of the national economy, including agriculture and to the people living in the relevant areas," the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

   Heavy rain fell throughout the communist nation over the weekend as well as last month, the report said.

   Hardest hit were the provinces of Kangwon, South and North Pyongan and South Hwanghae, where 150 to 400 millimeters of rains fell on each of the three days, it added.

   Kangwon's Kumgang County, especially, had nine straight hours of torrential rains on Aug. 3.

   North Korea has relied on foreign handouts to help feed its 23 million population since the late 1990s and is currently reportedly suffering its worst food crisis since the late 1990s due to rising grain prices and a poor harvest.


North Korea Braces for Census in October

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is bracing for a nationwide census to be conducted in October, a pro-Pyongyang monthly magazine in Japan said in its latest edition, adding that the communist state is ready to mobilize even its bottom level of administration.

   According to the August edition of Joguk (Fatherland) published by the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, not only the authorities and units concerned, but also all the institutions, enterprises, organizations, "dongs" and people's neighborhood units are ready to launch the census from October 1 without fail.

   A "dong" is the lowest administration organ of the North, which is comprised of people's neighborhood units.

   The magazine quoted Kang Nam-il, director of the Population Center of the DPRK (North Korea) as saying that the census is the second in the 60-year history of the socialist country, adding international agencies such as the United Nations Population Fund are cooperating for the event.

   "The census will help the nation use human resources reasonably, along with smoothly solving the matter of health and daily problems, which will be necessary and useful after the unification of the Koreas," said Kang.

   He cited aging and maternal health as the two current important issues for the North's population, adding that the authorities are giving special subsidies for people who have many children.

   The coming census is expected to mobilize as many as 140,000 survey agents across the country, with 10 international agents observing for half a month. The results will come out around October 2009.