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Paddy Power pulls support for Rodman's North Korean trips

Former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman speaks to the media after returning from his trip to North Korea at Beijing airport, December 23,
Former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman speaks to the media after returning from his trip to North Korea at Beijing airport, December 23,

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish bookmaker Paddy Power has withdrawn its sponsorship of retired U.S. basketball player Dennis Rodman's visits to North Korea, saying it was a result of general condemnation of Pyongyang.

Rodman returned on Monday from a four-day trip to isolated North Korea that was arranged by Paddy Power and followed the rare public purge of leader Kim Jong Un's powerful uncle Jang Song Thaek, who was executed this month.

"It was really a reaction to the worldwide focus and total condemnation of the North Korean regime over recent events," the betting firm, which is renowned for its daring marketing, said in a statement.

"We don't want to be associated with that."

North Korea's economy, once larger than South Korea's, is now a fortieth the size of its neighbor. Its 24 million people regularly suffer food shortages, the United Nations says.

The execution reflected "the brutality of the regime" and its "low regard for human life," U.S. President Barack Obama's press secretary, Jay Carney, said earlier this month.

Rodman has visited Pyongyang on two other occasions, during which he spent time dining as a guest of Kim, with whom he says he has a genuine friendship. He did not meet Kim during his third trip.

Rodman intends to return to Pyongyang in January with a team of fellow former National Basketball Association stars to hold basketball games on Kim's birthday.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has described recent events as a "reign of terror". The purging of Jang, considered the second most powerful man in the North, indicated factionalism within the secretive government.

Rodman told Reuters last week it was not his place to talk about such issues.

Rodman's first visit in February came shortly after North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in defiance of U.N. resolutions. Rodman said upon his return from that trip that Kim wanted to receive a call from Obama, an avid basketball fan.

The White House has said the United States has direct channels of communication with North Korea and declined to directly respond to Rodman's message that Kim hoped to hear from Obama after his previous visit.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin, editing by David Evans)

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