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36 dead, mostly Chinese, in North Korea traffic accident

BEIJING (AP) — A traffic accident in North Korea has killed 32 Chinese tourists and four North Koreans, Chinese officials said Monday.

Two other Chinese tourists were badly injured and were in "acutely serious condition," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. It said China had dispatched a medical team accompanied by diplomats to assist the North Korean side.

The accident occurred Sunday night in North Hwanghae province, south of Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regularly scheduled news conference.

Footage on Chinese state broadcaster CCTV showed the mangled wreckage of a bus in the dark with rain falling. Rescue vehicles were on the scene, and the injured were shown being treated in a hospital.

China and North Korea share a lengthy border and a traditional friendship dating back to China's military intervention on the side of the North in the 1950-53 Korean War. China remains Pyongyang's largest trading partner, although commerce has dropped off by about 90 percent under United Nations sanctions.

The ministry described the four North Koreans killed as "workers." North Korea requires that all visitors be accompanied by minders.

Other details on the backgrounds of those killed and injured and the circumstances of the accident were not immediately disclosed.

Chinese tourists make up the vast majority of visitors to North Korea, where they often pay homage at sites related to China's participation in the war.

Only about 5,000 Westerners visit the isolated, hard-line communist state each year. Americans have been banned from traveling to North Korea without special permission from the U.S. State Department since September amid concerns about the fate of those detained there in the past.

North Korean roads are often bumpy and poorly maintained. There is usually no lighting other than headlights at night, even on major roads outside of the cities. Drivers tend to travel at whatever speed they feel is safe, making the roads even more dangerous, particularly when the weather is bad.

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Associated Press writer Eric Talmadge in Tokyo contributed to this report.