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South Korea’s president lambasts North’s ‘despicable provocations’ in Memorial Day speech

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President Yoon Suk Yeol said South Korea will “never overlook” the North’s “despicable provocations” and vowed to maintain “ironclad readiness” alongside the United States during his Memorial Day speech at Seoul National Cemetery on Thursday.

The president’s remarks came amid heightened tensions on the peninsula following South Korea’s decision to fully suspend its participation in a 2018 inter-Korean military pact after the North flew hundreds of trash-laden balloons into the South last week, in addition to jamming GPS signals along the border and launching a flurry of short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea.

“After firing artillery shells into the West Sea and launching missiles, North Korea recently carried out a despicable provocation that would make any normal country ashamed of itself,” Yoon said, referring to the nearly thousand balloons carrying bags stuffed with trash, excrement, cigarette butts and other refuse that landed across South Korea.

President Yoon Suk Yeol, seventh from left in the front row, places his hand over his chest during a Memorial Day ceremony to honor South Korea’s veterans and fallen soldiers at Seoul National Cemetery in Dongjak District, southern Seoul, on Thursday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
Yoon not only promised that his administration “will never overlook the threat from North Korea” but also that it will “firmly safeguard [South Koreans’] freedom and safety” and “maintain an ironclad readiness posture” through a “more robust alliance with the United States and cooperation with the international community.”
Since taking office over two years ago, Yoon has worked to strengthen security cooperation with Washington and also expand defense ties with Tokyo.

The three countries’ defense chiefs announced on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Sunday that their militaries would launch a new trilateral multi-domain exercise called Freedom Edge later this summer.

The president also criticized the North for “refusing to accept the progress of history” and becoming the “darkest” country in the world.

Noting that North Koreans living just 30 miles from Seoul “suffer from starvation and brutal deprivation,” Yoon said the South “will only be able to restore the North Korean people’s freedom and human rights” by becoming a “stronger country,” which he also said was the “right way to properly remember the sacrifices and dedication” of South Korean soldiers and “uphold their noble cause.”

After paying tribute to South Korean and United Nations troops who helped defend the country from the 1950-53 Korean War to the present day, the president promised his administration “will repay heroes who sacrificed everything” in the line of duty.

Yoon further promised to improve welfare services for veterans by expanding medical care and rehabilitation support for persons of national merit so that people injured while serving the country “can get back to their normal lives.”

President Yoon Suk Yeol, second from left, shakes hands with Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung after delivering his speech at a Memorial Day ceremony held at Seoul National Cemetery in Dongjak District, southern Seoul, on Thursday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
President Yoon Suk Yeol, second from left, shakes hands with Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung after delivering his speech at a Memorial Day ceremony held at Seoul National Cemetery in Dongjak District, southern Seoul, on Thursday. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

“No matter what happens, the country will take full responsibility for the bereaved families of our heroes who unfortunately lost their lives in service of the country,” Yoon said, adding that the government plans to expand a welfare program for fallen soldiers’ children that was initiated last year to “take care of each and every child as if they were [the country’s] own.”

After the ceremony at Seoul National Cemetery, the president attended a luncheon at the Blue House to honor some 160 veterans of the Korean War, the 2002 Battle of Yeonpyeong, the 2010 bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island and sinking of the ROKS Cheonan corvette, as well as the families of soldiers, police officers and firefighters who died while carrying out their duties.

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]