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By Kim Han-joo
SEOUL, May 18 (Yonhap) -- President Yoon Suk Yeol vowed Thursday to courageously stand against any challenges to freedom and democracy by upholding the spirit of a 1980 pro-democracy uprising in the southwestern city of Gwangju.
Yoon made the remark during a ceremony marking the 43rd anniversary of the Gwangju Democratization Movement, in Gwangju, some 267 kilometers southeast of Seoul, which was attended by a large number of lawmakers from the rival parties and families of the victims.
"If we do not forget and inherit the May spirit, we must boldly fight against all of the forces and challenges threatening freedom and democracy and have such practical courage," Yoon said during the ceremony held at the May 18th National Cemetery.
Yoon said the spirit of the uprising lives on and called for the protection of liberal democracy.
"(The May spirit) is a unifying force that binds us together," he said.
Yoon further said the May spirit is nothing less than the liberal democratic spirit as enshrined in the Constitution and is a precious asset that should be passed down.
"We stand here today, together, to remember the resistance of May, 43 years ago, which defended the values of liberal democracy and human rights by shedding blood, and to honor the souls of the democratic spirit," he said.
Near the end of the ceremony, Yoon, along with mothers of some of the young students victimized in the uprising, sang along to the signature song for the pro-democracy uprising in Gwangju, called "March for the Beloved."
Previously, the song had been performed by a choir during the administrations of conservative Presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye. However, Yoon's predecessor, liberal former President Moon Jae-in, officially mandated that the song be sung by all participants at the annual commemorative event.
Displaying a message of unity, Yoon expressed gratitude to families of the victims for their courage and for not losing hope over the years.
This marks the first time that a conservative president has attended the annual ceremony for two consecutive years. Yoon had made a promise to the families of the victims last year that he would attend the ceremony every year.
Nearly 90 members of the ruling People Power Party also visited the annual ceremony for the second consecutive year, in an apparent move to outreach to the rival region of Honam so as to improve its image and woo centrist voters ahead of next year's parliamentary elections.
The main opposition Democratic Party also had a strong presence with nearly 100 lawmakers in attendance.
The former authoritarian regime of Chun Doo-hwan ordered a crackdown on the uprising, which left more than 200 dead and 1,800 others wounded, according to conservative official data.
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