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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 July 2006, 22:21 GMT 23:21 UK
N Korea cancels gymnastics gala
North Korea's Arirang festival
The festival aims to boost the Pyongyang government's image
North Korea has cancelled a massive festival featuring thousands of gymnasts, soldiers and performers because of flooding earlier this month.

The two-month long Arirang festival has in the past been popular with western tourists and visitors from South Korea.

The event features spectacular synchronised acrobatic displays and is seen by Pyongyang as a way of boosting leader Kim Jong-il's popularity.

Floods in North Korea this month killed more than 100 people.

According to the UN's food agency, some 60,000 people were left homeless by the floods, which followed torrential rains.

Strained relations

Han Song Ryol, a North Korean envoy to the United Nations, told the Associated Press news agency the festival had been "cancelled due to flood damages".

He did not say whether the event would be rescheduled.

Pyongyang had planned to invite up to 600 tourists every day from South Korea to see the festival, South Korean news agency Yonhap reports.

The agency said South Korean officials were concerned that the cancellation of the festival could lead to contacts between the two Koreas being curtailed.

Relations between the two countries are already strained over Pyongyang's recent decision to test new, long-range missiles, ending a self-imposed moratorium on such tests.

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