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WONSAN, North Korea – North Korea on Saturday opened an air festival featuring sky diving, demonstrations by its air force and lots of beer to promote a newly renovated and upgraded commercial airport in the coastal city of Wonsan that it hopes will draw more foreign tourists.
The two-day International Friendship Air Festival has been touted for months by the North as part of its ongoing effort to draw more tourists to the area, which is already popular with Chinese tourists and in the past attracted many Japanese, who came by ferry.
Japanese visits dropped off abruptly as political relations deteriorated over revelations that North Korea had abducted more than a dozen Japanese people in the 1970s and 80s and then over its nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs.
The new Wonsan airport features a sparkling terminal building with cafes, shops and an airy, glass-walled modern design. Aircraft from the national flag-carrier, Air Koryo, were lined up on the tarmac in a static display.
A Hughes 500 helicopter, modified for military use, started off the show with a low-to-ground display of hovering and aerobatic techniques. The U.S.-made helicopter has been shown here previously, raising questions about whether the North had obtained the helicopters in violation of sanctions.
A MiG-29, a Russian fighter jet, roared over the crowd to loud roars of cheers and applause.
The airport — officially called Kalma Airport — had previously been used by the military.
Thousands of Koreans turned out for the opening, along with a crowd of foreign journalists and tourists invited to attend the event.
North Korea has been trying to promote tourism for years, but its efforts have been severely hindered by international sanctions and political tensions over its nuclear weapons program.
The North tested its fifth nuclear weapon earlier this month, bring sharp criticism from its neighbors and especially the U.S.