[EDITORIALS]Yankee go home?

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[EDITORIALS]Yankee go home?

Large candle-lit vigils will be held across Korea today in memory of the two middle school girls crushed to death in June by a U.S. Army armored vehicle. Organizers say that 300,000 Koreans will join the rallies nationwide, including 100,000 in front of Seoul's City Hall.

No words can describe the Korean people's sorrow over the tragic death of the teenage girls. It is a remarkable change from past practice that peaceful demonstrations have led Seoul and Washington to discuss ways of improving the Status of Forces Agreement governing the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed here.

Despite the positive change that the candle-lit protests have brought, we feel anxious about today's rallies.

We are concerned that the gatherings might turn into anti-U.S. demonstrations. In fact, the atmosphere is quite tense; banners saying, "We want to live without U.S. forces," have already been hung at some of the venues for the rallies. Hanchongnyeon, a left-wing university students' group, is among the organizers, and there is a potential for mischief. Under the circumstances, some unexpected problems may crop up, so each participant in the rallies should be especially careful to keep them orderly.

A perilous series of events at home and abroad might turn the candle-lit rallies into a crisis.

North Korea's nuclear development is a volatile issue; a ship carrying North Korean missiles to Yemen has been seized and released and Pyeongyang has threatened to reactivate a nuclear power plant -- all this with the presidential election just five days away.

And the Korea-U.S. alliance, which is most urgently needed now, is not functioning properly. Washington is reportedly unhappy about the Korean government's attitude concerning the protests and the underlying issues.

James Lilley, a former U.S. ambassador to Korea, said that the United States may consider pulling its troops out of Korea. Mr. Lilley, who witnessed the nationwide democratization movement in June 1987, said that the upsurge in anti-U.S. demonstrations could trigger such a withdrawal.

His remarks were not an official statement, but the former diplomat still has many close relationships with officials in the George W. Bush administration. His words at a press conference he called showed how seriously U.S. conservatives are taking the latest anti-American rallies here.

Some conservative groups here have called on the North to stop developing nuclear weapons and say they want U.S. troops to stay. If one side chants anti-U.S. slogans while another opposes the pullout of American troops, our society, so united only a few months ago during the days of World Cup fever, will once again be mired in chaos and division.

Tonight's candlelight demonstration must not be used to fuel social disruption and conflict. Citizens should mourn the girls' deaths and express their opinions clearly about the United States and the SOFA. But they should prevent violence and chaos under all circumstances. They should also be careful about possible instigations of violence by some lawless elements or groups.

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