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N Korea Cancels Wonsan Air Show as Warmbier's Death Scared Westerners

© AP Photo / Wong Maye-EMilitary parachutists descend upon Kalma Airport on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, in Wonsan, North Korea.
Military parachutists descend upon Kalma Airport on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, in Wonsan, North Korea. - Sputnik International
North Korean organizers of the September 2017 Wonsan International Friendship Air Festival have decided to scrap the air show.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — The reason is the diminished interest of Western tourists who were the primary visitors of the inaugural air show held in the previous year, in the wake of the tragic death of a US national previously imprisoned by the isolated nation, a spokeswoman of a Chinese travel agency told Sputnik Monday.

US college student Otto Warmbier came to North Korea in 2016 and was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for trying to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel in Pyongyang.

After 17 months in detention, he was released in a coma in June, evacuated to the United States and died in Ohio a few days after. The US State Department did not comment on the circumstances surrounding Warmbier's death, but condemned North Korea for its actions.

"We have confirmed with the North Korean organizers that the 2017 Wonsan Air Show has been canceled, because westerners showed little interest following the death of a US tourist earlier this year," a spokeswoman for Beijing-based Zhixing Heyi Travel, who would only gave her surname Cui, told Sputnik.

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North Korea held the first Wonsan International Friendship Air Festival in September last year. Zhixing Heyi Travel is listed as one of the designated tour operators by the organizers of the Wonsan Air Show.

According to Cui, most of the tourists interested in the North Korean Air Show were westerners. Following the death of US student Otto Warmbier in June after being released from a North Korean prison, Western tourists became less interested in the air show in Wonsan, Cui noted.

The US State Department introduced a travel ban on North Korea in June, prohibiting US citizens from traveling to the Asian country, amid increasing tension on the Korean Peninsula.

Netherlands-based 4Aviation, a designated tour operator of the Wonsan Air Show, also confirmed with Sputnik about the cancellation.

"We have indeed been informed that the Wonsan Air Festival has been canceled," 4Aviation responded through a message on Facebook.

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Rayco Vega at China-based KTG DPRK Tours & Information, another designated tour operator of the Wonsan Air Show, told Sputnik that his company had only three prospective customers who expressed interest in the Wonsan Air Show this year.

"One person from France and two from Netherlands were the only ones interested in the Wonsan Air Show this year," Vega said.

He added that his company probably would not send a tour group to Wonsan Air Show, even if it went on as scheduled.

The official website of the 2017 Wonsan International Friendship Air Festival has no information regarding the cancellation. According to the website, the air show, scheduled for September 23-24, will feature thrilling aerobatic flying displays, picturesque pleasure flights, exciting skydiving opportunities, scenic mass balloon ascents and colorful model aircraft flying.

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