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September 26, 2017

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North Korea aims to finish grandiose hotel within 3 years: tour firm

BEIJING -- North Korea hopes to complete within three years an ambitious but long-delayed hotel under construction in Pyongyang for 25 years, a travel firm said Friday after it was given rare access to the site.

Former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who died last year, reportedly ordered construction of the 105-story pyramid-shaped Ryugyong Hotel in 1987.

But the project has been repeatedly delayed and for many stands as a symbol of the persistent economic problems plaguing the country, a Stalinist state with a barely functioning economy that has suffered from famines in recent years.

Beijing-based company Koryo Tours, which organizes trips to North Korea, was granted a rare glimpse of the hotel last week.

During the visit, manager Hannah Barraclough and a colleague were told that North Korean authorities "say it will be two or three more years before the building is complete."

Photos taken by Koryo Tours and provided to AFP reveal a vast but still unfinished concrete interior.

"The atrium, when you walk into the hotel, is covered in glass and full of light," said Barraclough, adding that the glass cladding covering the hotel is nearly completed.

The hotel boasts a 95th-floor viewing platform offering "an amazing panoramic view over Pyongyang" and it will house a massive banquet hall as well as offices and apartments, she said.

Barraclough added that the hotel is likely to remain closed to tourists until its interior is finished.

North Korea has one of the world's most rigidly controlled economies and is desperately poor following decades of mismanagement and isolation, as well as the imposition of international sanctions over its nuclear program.

North Korea watchers and media reports in South Korea say Kim Jong Un, who took over as leader after his father's death in December, has shown signs of promoting market reforms in a bid to stimulate the economy.

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