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Ebola Fears Prompts N. Korea to Back Out of Major Taekwondo Events

FILE - Members of the Special Warfare Command demonstrate the traditional Korean martial art of taekwondo during celebrations to mark the 65th anniversary of Korea Armed Forces Day, Seongnam, Oct. 1, 2013.

North Korea has backed out of hosting of two major international taekwondo events this year, citing fears of the deadly Ebola virus, a top official with the sport's governing body said.

The disease, which has ravaged several West African nations and turned up in the United States, Spain and elsewhere, has not showed up in any East Asian nation since the outbreak exploded last summer.

Kim Seung Hwan, secretary general of the International Taekwondo Federation, told VOA’s Korean Service Tuesday that Pyongyang has notified the governing body that it was refusing to host the two events: the 60th Anniversary of Taekwondo even, scheduled for April, and the 19th Taekwondo World Championships in August.

Earlier this week, the president of North Korea’s Taekwondo Committee, Kim Kyong Ho, sent an official letter to the federation expressing “sincere regret” for the decision.

The decision means dozens of participating nations will instead head to Bulgaria for the two events.

North Korea has taken several extraordinary measures in an effort to prevent any infection from entering the country.

For the past three months, all foreigners have been banned from entering the country. That has jeopardized the annual Pyongyang Marathon, scheduled for April 12.

North Korea had previously notified tour operators in the United States and China that it would will allow foreign competitors in for the marathon. But the cancellation of the taekwondo events makes that an open question.

South Korea has taken no similar measures with regards to Ebola.

Taekwondo, a form of competitive martial arts that is included in the Olympics, among other venues, is a hugely popular sport in the two Koreas.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report.