N Korean pop band Moranbong ends China goodwill tour

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Media captionKim Jong-un sent his all-female North Korean pop group to perform in China

An all-female pop group from North Korea have ended their goodwill tour of China - before it even began.

Members of the Moranbong band unexpectedly turned up at Beijing's main airport just hours before their first concert and flew back to Pyongyang.

They were due to play three shows to help improve ties between China and North Korea.

It is not yet clear why the performances were cancelled.

Moranbong are one of North Korea's most popular bands. The members were reportedly handpicked by the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, himself.

They play a mixture of Western and traditional Korean tunes, and have been happy to perform the theme from the film Rocky alongside patriotic songs praising North Korea's communist rulers.

The members play a range of instruments, including electric violins.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Moranbong are seen as an innovative and racy addition to the North Korean music scene
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The members of Moranbong were wearing military uniform for their departure from Beijing but some of their costumes are much more revealing

In their morally conservative homeland, the Moranbong musicians are also known for wearing revealing outfits and sporting fashionable hairstyles.

The women were waved off for their first-ever foreign tour from Pyongyang railway station on Wednesday by senior leaders.

Dressed in military uniforms, they smiled and waved to fans when they came and went from their hotel after arriving in China.

Concerts cancelled

There was no hint of trouble when they practised in Beijing's National Centre for Performing Arts on Friday.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman confirmed the performances were aimed at improving ties between China and North Korea. She also joked that she did not know where to get hold of a ticket for the concerts.

But on Saturday the band unexpectedly arrived at Beijing airport and boarded a plane back home - a scheduled flight whose departure was delayed for several hours.

The band's stage set was dismantled and its concerts were cancelled. Neither China nor North Korea has given an official reason for the abrupt end of the tour.

The two countries are allies. China's Chairman Mao once said they were as close as lips and teeth.

But they have not always seen eye-to-eye over recent years. China has been particularly angry at three nuclear tests carried out by North Korea, the last in 2013.