North Korea unveils new airport with shops, pharmacy and ... a chocolate fountain?

North Korea has finished building an international airport terminal, state media reported Thursday, and photos show leader Kim Jong Un inspecting rather swanky amenities that include a jewelry store, a pharmacy and a coffee bar with — is that a chocolate fountain?

It was unclear what international assistance impoverished North Korea received for constructing the two-story terminal, or how much it cost. A 30-photo slide show published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency showed Kim touring the terminal with his wife and a group of about a dozen people. Numerous photos showed the entourage in various states of laughter.

The facility, which also has a new control tower, will open July 1, the agency said. It replaces a terminal that dated to the 1950s and may be part of efforts by Kim to increase the country’s appeal to tourists and earn foreign currency.

Since Kim took the helm of North Korea three years ago, he has opened a variety of tourist attractions, including a ski resort, and invited foreign celebrities such as Dennis Rodman to the country. Overseas runners have been invited to participate in the Pyongyang marathon. But Kim also has periodically closed the country to visitors, most recently this spring, when borders were shut purportedly because of fears of Ebola.

Just a few airlines, including North Korea’s state-run Air Koryo, and Air China, operate flights into Pyongyang. Most tourists are from China and Russia.

Kim praised the “soldier-builders” who worked on the terminal, the construction of which was a cherished wish of his father, the late leader Kim Jong Il, KCNA said. The Associated Press reported in October that laborers were constructing the terminal largely by hand or with simple tools, with patriotic music blaring from loudspeakers. Huge signs urged the workers to carry out their duties with “Korea Speed,” AP reported.

Photos of the facility showed at least 12 check-in counters; an immigration desk featuring modern, automated, glass entry gates; a clothing shop; a gift shop; a duty-free store; and several restaurants. There also was a newsstand stocked with what looked like magazines and North Korean flags. Travelers will have use of luggage carts.

The state-run news agency said a master plan called for construction of “high-speed railways and motorway from the airport to the city center” to “ensure smooth traffic.” North Korea is known for its paucity of buses, cars and other vehicles, not to mention a scarcity of fuel. 

Accompanying Kim were senior officials, including Hwang Pyong So, considered to be North Korea’s No. 2 official; Premier Pak Pong Ju; and Kim Yang Gon, director of the United Front Work Department. Kim’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, was also in attendance, wearing a seafoam green skirt suit.

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