Demonstrations flare nationwide over acquittal of 2 U.S. soldiers

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Demonstrations flare nationwide over acquittal of 2 U.S. soldiers

South Koreans took to the streets again over the weekend as protests spread against the acquittal of two U.S. soldiers in the accidental deaths of two Korean girls, who were run over by an armored vehicle in June during military maneuvers.

Four student activists protesting the court-martial verdicts last week, which found the GIs innocent of negligent homicide, broke into a U.S. base near Incheon yesterday after cutting through the wire fence, said Stephen Oertwig, the spokesman of the United States Force Korea. The demonstrators climbed a 20-meter-high water tank and hung a banner that read "Void the acquittals!" Outside the base, more than 500 activists scuffled with riot police guarding the post.

Internet protesters tried flooding the White House, U.S. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney with e-mails but were unable to shut down the server.

On Saturday, more than 1,500 people gathered in downtown Seoul to hold a memorial for the two victims. Participants lighted candles in front of the Kyobo bookstore building, a block from the U.S. Embassy. Many of the attendees were junior high and high school students and their parents.

After the memorial, they marched toward the U.S. Embassy with another group of 2,500 activists, but 8,000 South Korean riot police blocked their path. No violence was reported.

Earlier on Saturday, the Pan National Committee, an alliance of civic groups that have been protesting ever since the June accident, held a gathering of 1,000 students and other citizens in Daehangno in central Seoul. During the demonstration, the committee called on the U.S. military to void the acquittals and revise the Status of Forces Agreement, which governs the activities of American military personnel in Korea. A group of 40 university students shaved their heads during the protest.

Also on Saturday, more than 350 students staged a rally in front of a U.S. military base in Jinhae, South Gyeongsang province; other demonstrations were reported near the U.S. camps in Chuncheon and Wonju in Gangwon province.

by Lee Chul-jae

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