N KOREA holds military parade ahead of Winter Olympics

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Female ice hockey players from both Koreas will compete as one team in the Olympics, which open Friday and will be attended by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister and other senior officials. North Korea is sending 22 athletes to the Olympics, as well as hundreds of cheerleaders, musicians, singers and dancers.

Before leaving Japan for Korea, Pence announced that the US would unveil in coming days "the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever".

But hopes for détente have been tempered by deep skepticism over the North's sudden overtures. "And we will continue to isolate North Korea until it abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile program once and for all".

Although the USA had not requested talks with North Korea, Mr Pence left open the possibility of some contact.

North Korea is under multiple sets of UN Security Council sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, which have seen it develop rockets capable of reaching the United States mainland.

Pence traveled to South Korea to lead the USA delegation to Friday's opening ceremonies, but has used his trip to participate in symbolic events meant to shine a spotlight on North Korea's nuclear program and human rights abuses. Aides say the vice president is advancing a counter message, using the games as an opportunity for the South and the broader global community to exert what President Donald Trump has termed "maximum pressure" against the North. A potential escalation of sanctions could be the USA blacklisting Chinese banks accused of providing North Korea access to the global financial system and facilitating sanctions evasion.

The Vice President is traveling to the Olympic Games in South Korea to reinforce the strong US presence on the Korean Peninsula and send a clear message of American resolve to the North Korean regime.

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Pence also warned against allowing North Korea to use the Olympics for propaganda purposes.

Pence shied away from public criticism of Moon when they met Thursday evening, congratulating South Korea on hosting the games and pledging continued support in addressing the North's nuclear threat. The military should remain on high alert to ensure that invaders can not not violate the North's sovereignty, he said.

The mission said the visit "will serve as a timely opportunity to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula and beyond by promoting an environment conducive to a peaceful, diplomatic and political solution concerning the situation on the Peninsula", according to the request seen by Reuters.

The countries technically have remained at war after fighting ended in 1953.

"We have destroyed the enemy's risk-taking provocations at every move", Kim Jong Un said in a speech.

5 of 9 Hwasong-12 and Hwasong-14 missiles are displayed during a military parade held in Pyongyang, North Korea, on February 8, 2018. Unlike the North's parade last April, state television also did not show the event live, instead airing it hours later.

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