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N.Korea holds New Year's Eve show despite COVID-19 restrictions

SEOUL (Reuters) - Crowds of partiers filled the main square in the North Korean capital Pyongyang on Thursday night to watch a concert and fireworks show marking the new year, state media showed, amid restrictions aimed at preventing a coronavirus outbreak.

State television showed participants wearing face masks but standing close together as they waved glowing lights and balloons in Kim Il Sung Square.

Performers - none of the them wearing protective masks - sang and danced on a stage decorated with a large, colourful “2021” sign. Costumes included traditional Korean “hanbok” dresses and sequined dance suits.

Giant snowmen characters clapped along as performers sang songs with patriotic refrains such as “glory to the general Kim Jong Un” and “I like my country the best”.

The event appeared to be smaller in scale than past years, said Colin Zwirko, a correspondent with Seoul-based NK News, which monitors North Korea.

“Definitely a much smaller event than last year, judging by the lowkey presentation and smaller crowd,” he wrote on Twitter.

North Korea has said it has no confirmed cases of coronavirus, though it has tested thousands of people, and the government has imposed near total border lockdowns and other strident measures to prevent an outbreak.

Officials in South Korea and the United States have cast doubt on the claim that North Korea has had no cases.

In October, leader Kim Jong Un oversaw a military parade in Kim Il Sung Square featuring thousands of maskless soldiers.

The country is preparing this week to hold a huge congress of the ruling party amid growing crises caused by the coronavirus as well as international sanctions imposed over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.

State media have not announced a starting date for the event, but on Thursday news agency KCNA reported that delegates had begun arriving in Pyongyang.

Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Heejung Jung, Editing by Angus MacSwan

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