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N. Korea to hold international art festival amid tensions over rocket launch

North Korea plans to kick off an international art festival in Pyongyang next week, a pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan said Tuesday.

The April Spring Friendship Art Festival, to be held from April 11 to 19, is designed to celebrate the centennial of the birth of North Korea‘s late founder Kim Il-sung.

The festival will bring together about 800 artists from 23 countries, including China, Russia, France and Italy, the Choson Sinbo said on its Internet edition.

Their performances will be devoted to praising Kim, said Tong Kyong-su, a North Korean official handling the festival, as reported by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency late last month.

Kim died in 1994, though he is still referred to as the “eternal president” of the country. His April 15 birthday -- dubbed the “Day of Sun” -- is one of the most important holidays in the isolated country.

The festival is likely to be overshadowed by rising tensions over North Korea‘s planned rocket launch set for sometime between April 12 and 16.

The North says the launch is designed to place an earth observation satellite into orbit. However, South Korea, the United States and other regional powers suspect the launch could be a cover for testing the North’s ballistic missile technology.

In Washington, Japan’s top nuclear envoy, Shinsuke Sugiyama, after meetings with senior U.S. officials, said contingency plans are being considered to cope with the planned rocket launch.

He said it is still too early to talk in detail about what the international community will do if the North goes ahead with its launch.

The festival coincides with a North Korea’s Workers‘ Party conference that analysts say could help Kim’s grandson, current leader Kim Jong-un, further consolidate his grip on power.

Kim Jong-un took over the country following the December death of his father, Kim Jong-il.

The North is also scheduled to hold a separate parliamentary session on April 13, the first such meeting since the demise of Kim Jong-il. (Yonhap News)
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