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Google chairman Eric Schmidt ended his controversial visit to North Korea by declaring he urged the secretive state to embrace the "free and open internet".

Schmidt - no doubt keen to cram ever more online ads into every corner of the globe - argued that the Great Firewall of North Korea, which curbs citizens' web access, could prove deeply damaging for the country.

The search supremo said: "As the world becomes increasingly connected, their decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world, their economic growth and so forth."

He told reporters at Beijing airport in China that the Hermit Kingdom's "limited" use of technology in the country - which is said to be restricted to its elite state officials, universities and military - could eventually hurt North Korea's economy.

"The government has to do something. They have to make it possible for people to use the internet," Schmidt said, according to Reuters. "It's their choice now, and time, in my view, for them to start or they will remain behind."

Schmidt and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who accompanied him on the visit, failed to secure the release of Korean-American Kenneth Bae, who was arrested in December in the Norks capital Pyongyang for unspecified "hostile acts". Richardson confirmed that he was unable to meet 44-year-old Bae, who is claimed to be in good health.

As we reported last week, the visit by the two men on a personal capacity apparently unrelated to Google upset the US state department, which complained that the trip to Pyongyang was poorly timed. ®

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