중앙데일리

Rallies grow more diverse on U.S. issue

Jan 14,2003
"Oh God, thank you for the presence of the U.S. Army here," chanted about 30,000 Protestants in a prayer meeting that almost looked like a pro-American rally Saturday afternoon in front of City Hall. "We reject those anti-American bands."

Instead of the anti-American protesters' candlelight, they held green balloons, on which such words as "peace, penitence, and reconciliation" were written.

A couple of hours later, a small number of candlelight protesters gathered around the Kyobo building, 100 meters away from City Hall. They protested the deaths of the girls killed by a U.S. armored vehicle and demanded that the U.S. forces in Korea leave the country. Their numbers, which reached about 100,000 at the peak of the protests, had dwindled to a couple of hundred by Saturday.

Protests about the U.S. military presence in Korea are growing diversified. Often they directly oppose one after another.

Since the deaths of the girls last June, the Pan National Committee, an association of civic groups, has staged protests nationwide and even abroad denouncing the acquittal of the two U.S. soldiers who were in the vehicle that struck the girls. The protests have embraced a wide spectrum of the public; they developed into mass candlelight vigils about the end of November. They were considered as voluntarily organized and peaceful, but they increasingly developed anti-American sentiments.

The candlelight protests recently have diverged into two groups. The Pan National Committee leads rallies with a stronger anti-American cast. Another group, complaining that those rallies stifled diverse voices, organized their own gatherings geared more toward peace and human-rights awareness, not necessarily anti-American.

Leaders of the two groups, however, play down their differences.

"I respect the other group's opinion. The two groups' views agree in principle," says Chae Hee-byeong, a committee leader.

Kim Gi-boh, who came up with the original idea of candlelight protest and is now the organizer of the second group, says, "We are not against the committee. We just wanted to talk more about peace."

Internet bulletin boards are flooded with messages discussing the direction the protests should take next. In a survey by the Pan National Committee of 4,000 Internet users last week, there was sharp division between those who said the committee-led protests are desirable and those who said they were not. But more than 80 percent of those surveyed said the protests may go anti-American if their demands are not met.

Other Internet bulletin boards contain messages that the protests should move away from anti-Americanism and toward an expression of anti-war feeling and pro-human rights sentiment. Some protesters criticized their own protests, saying that some politicians were exploiting anti-American feelings for political purposes.

More overtly pro-American protests are being staged. Several hundred people in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi province, held a protest Wednesday that denounced North Korea's nuclear program and opposed U.S. withdrawal from Korea.

"We wanted to publicize the fact that the USFK has played vital roles in the national security of South Korea," said Min Se-gi, the leader of the association. The protesters waved both the Stars and Stripes and the Korean national flag, shouting "Thank you, USFK." Some of those attending vehemently denounced the anti-American candlelight protesters, saying they were "the Red Guards of Kim Jong-il," the North Korean leader. They said the deaths of the girls were accidental and that the USFK had given monetary compensation.

The 30,000 Christians at City Hall last Saturday raised the same themes. Several clergymen took the platform and said prayers that included such messages as "We wish for the North, which ignores God, to collapse," and, "We are grateful for God and the USFK for protecting South Korea."

Whether anti- or pro-American, the protests will continue for a while. The Yoido Full Gospel Church, which organized Saturday's rally, promised another next Sunday and is organizing other demonstrations nationwide. The Pan National Committee will hold an anti-American protest Jan. 25.


by Min Seong-jae


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