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North Korean pop band abruptly cancels China gigs

An all-female band formed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has canceled its concerts in Beijing and left the country. The sudden cancelation of the "friendship performance" has left many puzzled.

North Korea's Moranbong Band had been scheduled to hold three concerts in Beijing beginning Saturday night in what was viewed as a visit to cultivate ties between the countries.

But after an unexplained cancellation, the band's members headed to Beijing's airport and flew back to North Korea. Within hours workers began dismantling the sets and stage for the invitation-only concerts without explanation.

Although North Korea is well known for its unpredictability, the sudden cancellation of the concerts could harm relations between Beijing and Pyongyang as ties have already been cooler since Kim assumed power in 2011.

Formed in 2012, members of the Moranbong Band were reportedly hand-picked by Kim Jong Un. The band has been a mainstay at

public events singing patriotic songs

extolling the virtues of the reclusive communist country.

In the absence of official explanations rumors have swirled on social media.

Some Chinese internet users suggested that the abrupt decision may have been related to Pyongyang's announcement this week that it had developed a hydrogen bomb.

"The next thing they'll do is test a nuclear weapon, and go against Xi Dada", one commentator said on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like social media platform, using a common nickname for Chinese President Xi Jinping.

South Korean media mused about a rumored past relationship between the married North Korean leader and a female member of the band, which also made rounds on Chinese social media.

Kim Jong Un mit Begleiterin

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and an unidentified woman watch a performance of the Moranbong Band in Pyongyang in July 2012.

"There are few things the North takes more seriously than an attack on the dignity of its supreme leadership, and it might have decided to bring the female members of the band back quickly to cut off such reports," said Yang Moo-jin, a North Korea expert at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

North Korea has built a cult of personality around the Kim dynasty, which has ruled for three generations. Any criticism or mockery of its leader is viewed as an attack on its sovereignty.

jar/bw (AP, AFP)

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