North Korea will stage its massive dance-and-tumbling extravaganza known as the Arirang Festival in August, apparently cranking up its domestic propaganda efforts as tensions linger over the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on Pyongyang.
The show typically feature thousands of gymnasts in synchronized maneuvers and giant mosaics formed by children turning pieces of colored paper. But it has been criticized as a propaganda tool achieved through the rigid and disciplined training of its young performers.
The mass games will start in early August at Pyongyang's May Day Stadium, the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said on Thursday, according to the country's Uriminzokkiri website. Koryo Tours, a Beijing-based travel agency that organizes trips to North Korea, said they will run from August 2 through October 10.
Named after a traditional Korean love song, the festival made its debut in 2002 to commemorate the birth of the North's late founding leader Kim Il Sung, father of the North's current leader Kim Jong Il.
News on the latest festival came a day after the United States announced expanded and strengthened sanctions against the North and its nuclear weapons program.
The move came in response to the North's suspected involvement in the sinking of the South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors. North Korea denies any involvement and has threatened war if punished.
Over the years, the festival has been witnessed in person by more than 12 million people, including 118,000 foreigners, according to the Rodong Sinmun newspaper report.
The isolated North encourages foreigners to visit the country to watch the spectacles, one of the few areas in which the North can excel.
It's also one of the few times average Americans, typically prohibited from visiting the North, are allowed visas to visit. In 2007, then South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun watched the spectacle during his trip to Pyongyang for a summit with Kim Jong Il.
In 2000, Kim Jong Il took visiting then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to a mass performance that was a precursor to the Arirang show, the highlight of which was a giant mosaic displaying a rocket flying into the sky.