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Groups cancel DMZ Christmas display out of respect for North Korea's loss

SEOUL – A coalition of Christian groups will not go ahead with plans to light giant Christmas displays along the demilitarized zone out of respect to North Korea as it mourns its leader, Kim Jong Il.

North Korea announced Monday that Kim had died on Saturday, and the government declared an official period of mourning until the 69-year-old’s state funeral on Dec. 28.

In consideration of North Korea’s mourning, the South Korean government recommended that Christian groups forgo the lighting of their displays, which were planned for Friday.

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Tak Sejin, a spokesman for the Yoido Full Gospel Church and one of the organizers of the effort, said, “Kim’s death may not be something we should care about. But it is natural … that we mourn and express condolences for anyone who dies.

“So, we decided not to (light the displays) as a Christian show of love and peace,” Tak said.

South Korean government officials had approved a request to light three giant towers in the shapes of Christmas trees at different points along the DMZ. Some 100,000 lights hanging from a 100-foot-tall steel tower were to be illuminated during Friday’s ceremony at Aegibong Hill, about two miles from the North Korean border. Officials said the display would likely have been visible as far away as Kaesong, one of the North’s most populated border cities.

In response to news of the planned Christmas displays, a North Korean state-run website had called the towers a form of “psychological warfare” and warned there would be “unexpected consequences” if the South went ahead with the tree lightings.

North Korean officials made similar threats against the lighting of the Aegibong Christmas tree last year, but the display remained lit for about three weeks without incident.

The Aegibong tree-lighting had been an annual event until 2004, when it was suspended as part of an agreement not to spread propaganda near the DMZ during a relative period of calm in relations on the peninsula.

However, in the wake of the North’s 2010 sinking of a naval ship and the shelling of a border island – attacks that left 50 South Koreans dead – the South gave the go-ahead for a resumption of the border tree-lighting.

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