By Soo-hyang Choi
SEOUL (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – South Korea staged its 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 compared 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 using nuclear weapons and pledged to increase support for the military and defense industry.
“If North Korea uses nuclear weapons, its regime will be ended by a crushing response from the ROK-US alliance,” Yoon said, addressing troops in the rain. ROK is the initials of the official name of the South, the Republic of Korea.
The daylong event featured thousands of South Korean soldiers, tanks and self-propelled artillery, joined by 300 of the 28,500 U.S. troops based in the country, the Defense Ministry said .
The highlight was a 2km (1.24 mile) parade through Seoul’s main commercial and business district to the bustling Gwanghwamun area which is the gateway to a vast palace in the heart of Seoul.
Crowds lined the streets in the rain to get up close to the rare display of military equipment, cheering as troops, tanks, missiles and an 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 unmanned drones show how much our country has developed,” Cho said.
Some activists, however, demonstrated near the site of the demonstration, denouncing the government for fomenting tensions, brandishing a banner with the words “Stop the arms race”.
South Korea last held its military street parade in 2013. The Armed Forces Day event and parade were held before the actual day of October 1, as this year it overlaps with a important national holiday.
The event comes as President Yoon has taken an aggressive stance toward North Korea, making weapons displays and military exercises 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 strengthened a military alliance with Washington and Tokyo since taking office last year.
Tuesday’s parade began at the air base on the outskirts of Seoul, where Hyunmoo missiles, L-SAM missile interceptors and reconnaissance drones were among the military equipment on display.
A flight of F-35 jets and the first domestically developed fighter, the KF-21, was scrapped due to bad 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 to strike the North during a conflict, while the L-SAM is designed to hit incoming missiles at altitudes of between 50 and 60 km.
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 strengthen military cooperation.
Yoon said that if Russia helped North Korea improve its weapons programs in exchange for assistance with the war in Ukraine, it would be “a direct provocation.”
(Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi and Hyunsu Yim; Editing by Jack Kim, Gerry Doyle and Christian Schmollinger)