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Thousands join candlelight rally

Soldiers' acquittals draw 'Yankee go home' cries

Dec 09,2002
The streets of central Seoul were flooded again Saturday, not by red waves of the World Cup fans this time, but by candlelight protesters.

Between 15,000 and 20,000 people rallied at the Gwanghwamun intersection of central Seoul, showing their anger at the recent acquittal of the two American soldiers who ran over and killed two girls in June, and demanding a revision of the Status of Forces Agreement, the rules governing U.S. troops in Korea. Several thousands more in 30 cities nationwide also staged demonstrations.

The protest began around 3 p.m. at Jongmyo Park in Jongno, downtown Seoul. Thousands of people from civic groups and student associations rallied at the park, chanting such slogans as "Yankee go home," and "Bush apologize." The protesters then took to Jongno Street and marched to Gwanghwamun, where they were joined by thousands more protestors .

While mostly peaceful, there were a few outbursts, as some protesters hurled their candles and eggs at a nearby Grand National Party's presidential campaign car and pushed police officers who were occupying all of Gwanghwamun. But no injuries were reported. Whenever a tension between the police and the protesters arose, the protesters contained themselves and shouted "peace."

As protesters took the streets, traffic around the Gwanghwamun intersection became paralyzed by 7 p.m. Protesters then marched to the U.S. Embassy, but the police prevented the protesters from entering the embassy compound by surrounding the compound with their police buses. Protesters remained near the embassy demonstrating, singing and shouting until 10 p.m.

Saturday's protest, although heavier in the atmosphere, resembled the rallies for the Korean soccer team during the World Cup. The ubiquitous "Dae-han-min-guk" cheer was modified to a call for a revision of the SOFA.

The candlelight protest, while supported by the Pan National Committee of civic groups, was mostly organized in a decentralized manner, mostly over the Internet at online bulletin boards and other digital communities. "I joined the protest to show that Korea needs to recover its national pride regarding the deaths of two girls," said Ju Jae-seon, an office worker in his late-30s who joined the protest with his 7-year old girl. He said he was notified of the protest while using an online chatting program.

Near the U.S. Embassy, protesters created a "free speech" stage where anyone could express their opinions. High school students, housewives and priests took to the stage and proclaimed their views. "I came here to console the souls of the two young students like me," shouted one high school student.

But Kwon Young-ghil, the presidential candidate of the Democratic Labor Party, was blocked from speaking, as protesters said it was a citizens' rally, not for politicians.

The Gwanghwamun protesters plan to gather again next Saturday in front of Seoul City Hall.

by Min Seong-jae




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