North Korea Pulls the Plug on Karaoke

North Korea has ordered the closure of karaoke bars in an apparent attempt to stem outside influences on the isolated communist country, a South Korean civic group said Wednesday.

Separately, the North's Ministry of People's Security conducted house-to-house overnight inspections in areas near the border with China earlier this month to search for cell phones and illegal video CDs, the Good Friends aid agency said in a newsletter.

The ministry said in a directive last week that the move against karaoke outlets was a "mopping-up operation to prevent the ideological and cultural permeation of anti-socialism," according to the aid group.

Violators were warned they would face punishment, including deportation to other regions within North Korea.

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The group did not say how it obtained the information. Its previous reports on the North's isolated regime have been reliable. It was not clear how many karaoke bars the country has.

Officials at South Korea's top spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, were not immediately available for comment.

South Korea's Dong-A Ilbo newspaper carried a similar report citing the directive.

The newspaper said that the North also ordered the shutdown of video screening rooms while banning the use of computers and fax machines without state authorization.

It is not the first time that the North cracked down on outside influences. The regime has previously imposed restrictions on cell phones and South Korean pop culture.

Despite the crackdowns, some North Koreans use cell phones through Chinese communication networks. South Korean pop culture appears to be increasingly popularity in the North through smuggled discs of South Korean TV dramas and movies, according to defectors.

North Korea's state-run media frequently warn that imperialists are trying to poison the country's culture and ideals, claiming it is part of a U.S. offensive to topple the communist regime. Washington has denied the claim.

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