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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
Large numbers of youths and children wearing white caps have been observed conducting training for Mass Games performances in several parts of Pyongyang, informed sources told NK News on Friday.
Practice for the event has been seen for several weeks outside Pyongyang’s Mayday stadium, as well as near the Arch of Triumph, with a larger training session also taking place last Wednesday, multiple sources said.
Furthermore, training for a torch parade event has also been seen, one observer said, with roads closed in part of central Pyongyang on Friday to facilitate practice.
It’s not clear, however, when any Mass Games performances or torch parades might take place.
While in March it was revealed that Mass Games would resume in 2019, travel industry sources on Friday said they had not yet been informed about when tours could take place to observe the performances.
“We are all waiting on news at the moment actually and nobody seems to know for sure,” a travel industry insider said. “I imagine it will become clear imminently, though”.
But though it was previously expected that the event would resume in September, another industry source said they understood the current training could be for a VIP visit in May.
“I’m hearing more details emerge that Xi Jinping will be making an official visit to Pyongyang next month and the Koreans will host him at a special Mass Games event just for his entourage,” the source said.
While North Koreans aren’t normally informed of visits by foreign dignitaries until after they’re completed, last year’s Mass Games included a depiction of Chinese President Xi Jinping during a performance attended by a group of high-profile Chinese actors and musicians.
As a result, if a similar depiction was being practiced for Xi’s visit, large numbers of performers would be aware of it, explaining the possibility that some Pyongyang citizens could have accurate knowledge of his potential May visit.
The Mass Games resumed in 2018 under the title “Glorious Country” after a break of five years in which no performances had been scheduled.
Last year’s updated event saw a number of new additions such as a drone light show and new performance elements.
It also, notably, omitted previously-seen references to the country’s long-range missile and space programs – a move seen as part of general efforts to tone down threatening rhetoric amid improving relations with the U.S. and South Korea.
Referred to as the “grand mass gymnastics and artistic performance” in North Korea, the event typically sees over 100,000 people ranging from young children to professional adults coordinating in dance and acrobatics, as well as making up a giant “human pixel” backdrop.
A UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on human rights in North Korea, released in 2014, described the mass games as “compulsory mass propaganda events.”
The event attracts “large numbers of tourists, who are often unaware of the human rights violations endured by participating children, who are compelled to participate,” the report added.
North Korea, on the other hand, described the mass performance last year as a display of the “force of Juche Chosun’s single-minded unity and development of Juche arts and culture to boast to the entire world.”
Additional reporting by Colin Zwirko
Featured image: NK News