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North Korea will not attend the Tokyo Olympics because of the coronavirus pandemic, Pyongyang’s sports ministry said, putting an end to Seoul’s hopes of using the games to restart talks with its nuclear-armed neighbor and sending Japanese officials scurrying for further details.

The country is the first to withdraw from this year’s delayed Tokyo Games.

The announcement — dated Monday but released Tuesday — reported on a meeting of the North’s Olympic committee on March 25. Also Tuesday, Japan decided to extend its unilateral sanctions on North Korea, including a ban on all trade, by two years to maintain pressure on the country to give up its nuclear and missile programs to return Japanese nationals abducted decades ago.

North Korea's withdrawal from Tokyo Olympics dashes South's hopes for cross-border talks | CNA
North Korea’s withdrawal from Tokyo Olympics dashes South’s hopes for cross-border talks | CNA

The same day, organizers said an Olympic water polo test event scheduled for this weekend in Tokyo has been canceled because travel restrictions affecting sports officials. The cancellation is another blow for organizers just days after they restarted test events for the first time in more than a year.

It also comes just a couple of weeks after the decision to restrict the Games to domestic fans was finalized. Most Olympic volunteers from abroad will also be barred, though some 500 with skills indispensable to the smooth running of the games may still be allowed into the country under special entry rules.

The government is also considering cutting the number of official Olympic-related travelers, such as sports officials, sponsors and media, to Japan in half to around 30,000, a source tells Kyodo.

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