U.S.-Korea free trade deal faces political, emotive challenges in Seoul

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Such actions in the past have led to street protests and fistfights in the Assembly, a unicameral body in which it is nearly impossible to repeal a bill after it has been approved and in which minority politicians have tried to use physical force to halt votes on legislation.

Mr. Hahm, the political science professor, said the FTA “has become an ideological and political interest game.”

Anti-U.S. sentiment lingers among South Korea’s left wing over historical issues, such as the U.S. division of the peninsula in 1945, Korean War atrocities and Washington’s support for the authoritarian Seoul regimes of the 1960s-1980s, as well as over occasional crimes committed by the 27,500 U.S. troops in country.

Many on the left also believe that Seoul’s promising “Sunshine Policy” of engagement with North Korea was derailed by the hard-line administration of President George W. Bush.

Yet even if parliamentary clashes and street protests take place, most pundits expect the FTA to be ratified by year’s end.

“I think the majority of Koreans support ratification,” said Mr. Hahm. “It is not only an economic issue, it is a security issue that will help strengthen our alliance, both economic and strategic.”

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