Anti-U.S. focus marks weekend rallies

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Anti-U.S. focus marks weekend rallies

Anti-American sentiment reached a new height around Korea Saturday afternoon. An estimated 300,000 persons nationwide rallied in what was billed as memorial ceremonies for two Korean teenagers killed after being struck by a U.S. military vehicle last summer. Although there were no injuries reported, demonstrators clashed with riot police in Seoul after trying to march on the U.S. Embassy after the rally here.

An estimated 45,000 people gathered in front of Seoul's City Hall to hang "Yankee go home" banners, chant slogans like, "Revise the SOFA," "Bush apologize" and "Bring Mi-sun and Hyo-son back alive." The references were to the two students killed in the vehicle incident. They also sang obscenity-laced anti-American songs and tore several huge U.S. flags to bits before unfurling a Korean flag to shouts of "We will recover our national pride."

The protest, in Seoul much more fevered and much larger than the candlelight vigil staged the previous weekend in the same area, was organized by the Pan National Committee, which has been staging demonstrations since the girls' deaths. This was the third "candlelight vigil" to be held here; demonstrations also attracted about 6,000 persons in Daegu, 5,000 in Busan and 1,500 in Jeonju, the capital of North Jeolla province. In Daegu, two students broke into a U.S. military base, climbed a water tower and chanted anti-American slogans.

The rally began at about 3 p.m.; at 6 p.m. protesters began marching toward the nearby American Embassy, some hurling eggs and candles at the headquarters of the Chosun Ilbo newspaper along the way. They shouted that the newspaper, which has a conservative editorial voice, is unfairly pro-American.

Near the embassy, more than 23,000 riot police were arrayed to stop protesters from approaching the compound. There were shoving matches between demonstrators and police; some climbed police buses to skirmish with police from that vantage point. Some demonstrators in the crowd called out, "Peace" on several occasions when tensions seemed to be escalating. Some protesters remained in the Embassy area until about 10 p.m.

The phone call by U.S. President George W. Bush to President Kim Dae-jung on Friday in which Mr. Bush spoke of his "deep personal sadness" about the accident was dismissed by protesters, who said it was indirect. Kim Gi-boh, the originator of the candlelight rallies, said, "Our protests will go on until Bush appears on TV to apologize publicly for the matter and the two soldiers are punished." Others said a phone call would not bring the two girls back.

The protesters, mostly young adults, also included housewives, priests and students.

Some parents brought their children; one man with his seven-year-old daughter said, "I wanted to show my children what is going on. I want my children to have national pride."

The organizing committee said it will stage another demonstration on Dec. 31.

by Min Seong-jae

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