Japanese maestro to conduct Beethoven in N. Korea

TOKYO (AFP) - A veteran Japanese maestro will conduct Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in North Korea, his spokesman said on Tuesday, in a rare cultural exchange amid lingering mutual suspicion between the two nations.

Mr Michiyoshi Inoue and members of his orchestra have already arrived in Pyongyang at the invitation of the North's State Symphony Orchestra ahead of their concert on Friday, the spokesman said.

It will be his second concert in the isolated country after a performance in October 2011.

Mr Inoue, music director of the Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa in Ishikawa, central Japan, was quoted by the spokesman as saying: "This is a pure cultural exchange and nothing to do with diplomacy."

Japan and North Korea do not have diplomatic ties and have long been at odds, with Tokyo pressing Pyongyang to come clean over past abductions of Japanese nationals and its nuclear ambitions.

In 2002 North Korea admitted its agents had kidnapped Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies in Japanese language and customs.

Tokyo stepped up pressure on Pyongyang after it pressed ahead with a long-range missile launch in December and a much-criticised nuclear test last month.

North Korea maintains Japan has not made up for its wartime aggression and demands compensation and atonement.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.