Orascom funded world's tallest hotel lit up with N Korea propaganda

A propaganda message is displayed on the facade of the half-completed pyramid-shaped Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, turning a national embarrassment into a symbol of pride. (AFP)
Updated 11 January 2019
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Orascom funded world's tallest hotel lit up with N Korea propaganda

PYONGYANG: The 105-story Ryugyong Hotel has long been a blot on the Pyongyang skyline. The world’s tallest unoccupied building has towered over North Korea’s capital since 1987, a grand but empty pyramid entirely dark except for the lone aircraft warning light at the top.

Outsiders saw the unfinished building as the epitome of failure, while people inside the country took care to rarely mention it at all.

That is, until light designer Kim Yong Il made the building once again the talk of the town.

In a brilliant flip of the script, the Ryugyong has been reborn as a symbol of pride and North Korean ingenuity.

For several hours each night, the building that doesn’t have electricity inside becomes the backdrop of a massive light show in which more than 100,000 LEDs flash images of famous statues and monuments, bursts of fireworks, party symbols and political slogans.

The Ryugyong is still unfinished. There’s no public date when, or if, it will host its elusive first guest. Questions remain over whether the glass-and-concrete hotel is structurally sound. And North Korea’s electricity supply is limited as it is.

But never mind all that.

“I feel really proud,” Kim, the vice department director of the Korean Light Decoration Center, told The Associated Press in a recent interview at the foot of the hotel. “I made this magnificent design for this gigantic building and when people see it, it makes them feel good. It makes me proud to work as a designer.”

The display was first lit in April to mark the birthday of the country’s “eternal president,” Kim Il Sung.

Designer Kim said the preparations took about five months. He was in charge of the designing and programming the light display, which took him two months. Another specialist was responsible for the physical setup and electrical wiring.

Giant LED displays has been used around the world for many years — and on even bigger buildings. Japanese designer Yusuke Murakami and a London-based company collaborated in 2016 on an LED animation on Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s largest tower.

I feel really proud. I made this magnificent design for this gigantic building and when people see it, it makes them feel good. It makes me proud to work as a designer.

The 330-meter (1,083-feet) Ryugyong tower has three distinct sides. The main show is displayed on the front, while simpler designs light up the other two. For a conical section at the very top, Kim created the image of the red, white and blue North Korean flag waving in the wind. It is 40 meters tall and visible from any direction.

The four-minute main program begins with an animation showing the history of the nation, followed by homages to ideals like self-reliance and revolutionary spirit and a procession of 17 political slogans such as “single-minded unity,” “harmonious whole” and “100 battles, 100 victories.”

The lights are connected to a computerized controlling system about the size of a household DVD player.

“The whole program can be stored on an SD card and put into the controller,” Kim said. “We can do the diagnostics on a laptop.”

The Ryugyong is a big part of the legacy of second-generation leader Kim Jong Il, current leader Kim Jong Un’s late father.

He ordered its construction as part of Pyongyang’s preparations for the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students, which the city hosted in 1989 as a kind of counterpoint to the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The Ryugyong was supposed to be the world’s tallest hotel, surpassing another in Singapore that was built by a South Korean company, but the building fell by the wayside as North Korea experienced a severe economic crash and famines in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union.

It languished in limbo until Egypt’s Orascom Group, which established the North’s cellphone system, helped to fund the completion of its glass exterior in 2011.

Like his father, Kim Jong Un has a penchant for ambitious building projects, including 82- and 70-story residences in the capital’s Ryomyong — “dawn” — district that opened last year and a massive science and technology complex with a main building shaped like a giant atom.

 

 “The goal of setting up this light screen is to give confidence and hope for the future to our people,” said Kim, the designer, as he watched people walking by in the light of his massive display. “The response has been great. The national flag at the top of the building is hundreds of meters high and everyone can see it. It fills them with pride and confidence in being citizens, willing to work very hard.”

He declined to guess when the hotel itself might open.

“That’s not my field,” he laughed.

However,  he said there’s no plan to turn off the Ryugyong light show, though updates could be in the works.

“We could change the content,” he said. “The demands and aspirations of the people and the times change, so we can change the program to reflect that.”

Decoder

The Orascom project explained

The late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, father of the current leader Kim Jong Un, ordered the building project as part of Pyongyang’s preparations for the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students, which it hosted in 1989 as a kind of counterpoint to the 1988 Seoul Olympics.


Squabbles erupt as G7 leaders open summit in French resort

Updated 25 August 2019
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Squabbles erupt as G7 leaders open summit in French resort

  • Disputes on trade, climate may eclipse Macron’s agenda
  • EU’s Tusk warns of lack of global unity, spars with Johnson

BIARRITZ, France: Squabbles erupted among G7 nations on Saturday as their leaders gathered for an annual summit, exposing sharp differences on global trade tensions, Britain’s exit from the EU and how to respond to the fires raging in the Amazon rainforest.
French President Emmanuel Macron, the summit host, planned the three-day meeting in the Atlantic seaside resort of Biarritz as a chance to unite a group of wealthy countries that has struggled in recent years to speak with one voice.
Macron set an agenda for the group — France, Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — that included the defense of democracy, gender equality, education and the environment. He invited Asian, African and Latin American leaders to join them for a global push on these issues.
However, in a bleak assessment of relations between once-close allies, European Council President Donald Tusk said it was getting “increasingly” hard to find common ground.
“This is another G7 summit which will be a difficult test of unity and solidarity of the free world and its leaders,” he told reporters ahead of the meeting. “This may be the last moment to restore our political community.”
US President Donald Trump had brought last year’s G7 summit to an acrimonious end, walking out early from the gathering in Canada and rejecting the final communique.
Trump arrived in France a day after responding to a new round of Chinese tariffs by announcing that Washington would impose an additional 5% duty on some $550 billion worth of Chinese imports, the latest escalation of the tit-for-tat trade war by the world’s two largest economies.
“So far so good,” Trump told reporters as he sat on a seafront terrace with Macron, saying the two leaders had a special relationship. “We’ll accomplish a lot this weekend.”
Macron listed foreign policy issues the two would address, including Libya, Syria and North Korea, and said they shared the objective of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Trump later wrote on Twitter that lunch with Macron was the best meeting the pair has yet had, and that a meeting with world leaders on Saturday evening also “went very well.”
However, the initial smiles could not disguise the opposing approaches of Trump and Macron to many problems, including the knotty questions of protectionism and tax.
Before his arrival, Trump repeated a threat to tax French wines in retaliation for a new French levy on digital services, which he says unfairly targets US companies.
Two US officials said the Trump delegation was also irked that Macron had skewed the focus of the G7 meeting to “niche issues” at the expense of the global economy, which many leaders worry is slowing sharply and at risk of slipping into recession.
French riot police used water cannons and tear gas on Saturday to disperse anti-capitalism protesters in Bayonne, near Biarritz. A police helicopter circled as protesters taunted lines of police.
The leaders themselves were gathering behind tight security in a waterfront conference venue, the surrounding streets barricaded by police.

Spat over ‘Mr. No Deal’ Brexit
Macron opened the summit with a dinner at the base of a clifftop lighthouse overlooking Biarritz, where a menu of piperade, a Basque vegetable specialty, tuna and French cheeses awaited the leaders.
Adding to the unpredictable dynamic between the G7 leaders are the new realities facing Brexit-bound Britain: dwindling influence in Europe and growing dependency on the United States.
New Prime Minister Boris Johnson will want to strike a balance between not alienating Britain’s European allies and not irritating Trump and possibly jeopardizing future trade ties. Johnson and Trump will hold bilateral talks on Sunday morning.
Johnson and Tusk sparred before the summit over who would be to blame if Britain leaves the EU on Oct. 31 without a withdrawal agreement.
Tusk told reporters he was open to ideas from Johnson on how to avoid a no-deal Brexit when the two men meet.
“I still hope that PM Johnson will not like to go down in history as Mr.No Deal,” said Tusk, who as council president leads the political direction of the 28-nation European Union.
Johnson, who has said since he took office last month that he will take Britain out of the bloc on Oct. 31 regardless of whether a deal can be reached, later retorted that it would be Tusk himself who would carry the mantle if Britain could not secure a new withdrawal agreement.
“I would say to our friends in the EU if they don’t want a no-deal Brexit then we’ve got to get rid of the backstop from the treaty,” Johnson told reporters, referring to the Irish border protocol that would keep the border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland open after Brexit.
“If Donald Tusk doesn’t want to go down as Mr.No Deal then I hope that point will be borne in mind by him, too,” Johnson said on his flight to France.
Johnson is trying to persuade EU leaders to drop the backstop from a withdrawal agreement that was negotiated by his predecessor but rejected three times by the British Parliament as the United Kingdom struggles to fulfill a 2016 referendum vote to leave the bloc.

‘Not the way to proceed’
Despite the Brexit tensions, diplomats played down the likelihood of Trump and Johnson joining hands against the rest, citing Britain’s foreign policy alignment with Europe on issues from Iran and trade to climate change.
“There won’t be a G5+2,” one senior G7 diplomat said.
Indeed, Johnson said he would tell Trump to pull back from a trade war that is already destabilising economic growth around the world.
“This is not the way to proceed,” he said. “Apart from everything else, those who support the tariffs are at risk of incurring the blame for the downturn in the global economy, irrespective of whether or not that is true.”
Anti-summit protests have become common, and on Saturday thousands of anti-globalization activists, Basque separatists and “yellow vest” protesters marched peacefully across France’s border with Spain to demand action from the leaders.
“It’s more money for the rich and nothing for the poor,” said Alain Missana, an electrician wearing a yellow vest — symbol of anti-government protests that have rattled France for months.
EU leaders piled pressure on Friday on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro over fires raging in the Amazon rainforest.
Even so, Britain and Germany were at odds with Macron’s decision to pressure Brazil by blocking a trade deal between the EU and the Mercosur group of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said not concluding the trade deal was “not the appropriate answer to what is happening in Brazil now.”
The UK’s Johnson appeared to disagree with Macron on how to respond. “There are all sorts of people who will take any excuse at all to interfere with trade and to frustrate trade deals and I don’t want to see that,” he said.