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North Korea scraps plan to send cheerleaders to Asian Games in South

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea has decided not to send a cheerleading squad to accompany its athletes at the Asian Games to be held in South Korea next month, a leading sports official said on Thursday.

The reversal of an earlier pledge to send as many as 350 cheerleaders, who have been a popular attraction in their rare appearances in the South, follows weeks of tense negotiations between the rivals over the North's participation.

The vice-chairman of the North's Olympic committee, Son Kwang Ho, announced the decision.

"As the South side is so concerned about our cheerleading squad as to not wish its presence, we have decided not to dispatch the squad to the 17th Asian Games," Son was quoted as saying by the official KCNA news agency.

Son said the North would send 150 athletes and officials to the Games in the city of Incheon.

The two sides had resumed discussions this week to try to work out the details of the North's contingent, including the number of cheerleaders.

In 2005, Pyongyang sent 101 cheerleaders, including Ri Sol Ju, who has since married North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, to the Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon.

The North's cheerleaders have proved a huge draw in the South with tightly choreographed gymnastic routines and messages of peace and unification.

The North had threatened to pull out of the Sept. 19-Oct. 4 Games, blaming the South for scuppering rare talks over the terms of hosting their delegation.

A major issue of contention has been who will foot the bill for hosting North Korea's delegation.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Robert Woodward)

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