Organizer says protest is not 'anti-American'

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Organizer says protest is not 'anti-American'

Kim Gi-boh, who came up with the idea of a candlelight rally for two schoolgirls who were crushed to death by a U.S. military vehicle in June, said to simply call the 15,000 or so people who took part in the vigil last Saturday anti-American protesters would be to miss the point. After observing the gathering at Gwanghwamun in central Seoul, Mr. Kim said he felt that it was not a protest but a sincere expression of grief.

He first thought of holding the rally in an emotional moment after watching a television program on Nov. 27 about the road accident that killed the girls and the development of the case against the U.S. military personnel involved, who were recently acquitted of negligent homicide charges. He posted the idea on a few Internet bulletin boards and the first one was held Nov. 30. Since then, the idea has spread widely, with demonstrations being held in a small park away from the U.S. Embassy every evening at 6 o'clock. Weekday demonstrations are smaller, but on Saturdays huge crowds gather.

Mr. Kim, who is 29, said he imagined the "candlelight" part would bring out people who might be turned off by the idea of joining a protest. "But I had no idea that there would be so many people," he said.

He said every flame that night was like a firefly joining the souls of the dead girls. "Fireflies are believed to glow with the souls of the dead," he noted.

Mr. Kim, who works as a teacher in Seoul, said he grew up watching his own high school teachers fighting for the right to organize a labor union; he also took part in student movements in college.

He says the Gwanghwamun demonstrations are different from the protests of his youth and bristles at depictions of the participants as anti-American. "You can't just label these people 'angry anti-American protesters.' You have all these people coming together and there's no trouble."

Mr. Kim describes himself as "just a normal guy working as a teacher," but admits he enjoys dabbling in activism. Yet he brushes aside any credit for the peaceful outpouring of emotion, saying somebody else would have thought of it if he had not.

by Yoon Hyae-sin

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