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South Korea holds rare military parade, warns North over nuclear threat

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By Soo-hyang Choi

SEOUL () -South Korea put on the first large-scale military parade in a decade on Tuesday, with weapons ranging from ballistic missiles to tanks rolling through Seoul in a show of force as it takes a tougher stance against North Korea.

The parade marks the country’s Armed Forces Day, normally a muted event relative to the massive events the North has staged under leader Kim Jong Un that include strategic weapons such as intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

In a speech at Seoul Air Base, President Yoon Suk Yeol warned Pyongyang against the use of nuclear weapons and pledged to ramp up support for the military and the defence industry.

“If North Korea uses nuclear weapons, its regime will be brought to an end by an overwhelming response from the ROK-U.S. alliance,” Yoon said while addressing troops in the rain. ROK is the initials of the South’s official name, the Republic of Korea.

The full-day event featured thousands of troops and South Korea’s home-grown tanks and self-propelled artillery, joined by 300 of the 28,500 U.S. soldiers based in the country, the Defence Ministry said.

The highlight was a 2-km (1.24 mile) parade through Seoul’s main commercial and business district to the bustling Gwanghwamun area that is the gate to a sprawling palace in the heart of Seoul.

Crowds lined the streets in the rain to take in the rare display of military hardware up close, cheering as troops, tanks, missiles and a underwater drone passed by.

Cho Kyu-bok, a 75-year-old resident of Goyang, northwest of Seoul, said he came to Gwanghwamun hours before the event to get a front row view of the new weapons.

“Weapons like the unmanned drones show how much our country has developed,” Cho said.

Some activists, however, held a demonstration near the site of the parade, denouncing the government for fanning tensions, holding a banner that read “Stop arms race.”

WEAPONS DISPLAY

South Korea last held a military street parade in 2013. The Armed Forces Day event and parade were held ahead of the actual day on Oct. 1, as it overlaps with a major national holiday this year.

The event comes as President Yoon has taken a hawkish stance on North Korea, making displays of weapons and military drills a cornerstone of his strategy to counter the North’s evolving nuclear and missile programs.

Yoon has promised a swift response against any aggression by Pyongyang, and has actively reinforced a military alliance with Washington and Tokyo since taking office last year.

Tuesday’s parade kicked off at the airbase on the outskirts of Seoul, where Hyunmoo missiles, L-SAM missile interceptors, and reconnaissance drones were among military hardware on display.

A fly-past of F-35 jets and the country’s first domestically developed fighter, the KF-21, was scrapped because of poor weather, the presidential office said.

Hyunmoo is one of South Korea’s latest missiles, which analysts say is an integral part of Seoul’s plans for striking the North during a conflict, while the L-SAM is designed to hit incoming missiles at altitudes of 50km to 60km.

The parade comes a week after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un returned from a trip to Russia, during which he and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to boost military cooperation.

Yoon has said that if Russia helped North Korea enhance its weapons programs in return for assistance for its war in Ukraine, it would be “a direct provocation”.

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