Anti-U.S. protests spread in South Korea

Friday, December 6, 2002

SEOUL, South Korea -- A female sorcerer, Buddhists and motorists joined in anti-U.S. protests Thursday calling for revision of the rules governing the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

Anti-American sentiment is growing in South Korea, a close U.S. ally, after a U.S. military court acquittal two U.S. soldiers charged with negligent homicide in the road deaths of two Korean teenage girls.

At a temple in downtown Seoul, 150 Buddhists prayed and bowed in memorial services for the two 13-year-old schoolgirls who were crushed to death in June by an armored vehicle operated by the two Americans.

"Every time I see my 13-year-old daughter, I think about the two girls and my heart aches," said Myong Ahn-haeng at Chogye Temple, the headquarters of South Korea's largest Buddhist order.

Near the U.S. Embassy several blocks away, 50 female activists, dressed in white traditional Korean funeral clothes, sang anti-U.S. songs. A female sorcerer danced and performed a ritual for the dead girls.

"Bush, apologize!" and "Nullify the verdict," the protesters shouted. They demanded that rules be changed to give South Korea more control over U.S. soldiers here.

Dozens of motorists blared their honks as they passed by the U.S. Embassy which was guarded by hundreds of South Korean riot police.

At a public park a block away, 20 Roman Catholic priests continued a hunger protest for a fourth day. They plan to drink water and eat only salt for nine days.

Activists pledged to organize large-scale anti-U.S. protests in Seoul and several others cities on Saturday.

Most South Koreans support a U.S. military presence in their country as a deterrent against communist North Korea, but many think the Status-of-Forces Agreement governing U.S. troops here puts Koreans at a disadvantage.

The agreement, signed in 1966, has been revised twice to give South Korea more jurisdiction over U.S. soldiers charged in crimes, but many South Koreans believe that the accord often fails to punish GIs who commit crimes.

President Kim Dae-jung has expressed concern about growing anti-Americanism in South Korea and ordered his Cabinet to improve the agreement.

Currently, the U.S. military has jurisdiction over American soldiers accused of crimes while on duty, though it can allow South Korea to try them on a case-by-case basis.

Sgts. Fernando Nino and Mark Walker were on a training mission when their armored vehicle struck the Korean girls. South Korean activists demand that the soldiers be retried in a South Korean court.

President Bush apologized for the girls' deaths, but activists said the apology came too late and was not enough.

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