- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 16, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, Feb. 15 (UPI) — Thousands of civic activists and students staged rallies across South Korea Saturday to protest the United States' threatened attack on Iraq.

The street demonstration, organized by a coalition of about 700 civic groups in South Korea, was the first rally against the U.S.-led war on terrorism in South Korea, a key U.S. ally in Asia.

Some 2,000 protesters marched through central Seoul, carrying purple balloons they said symbolized peace and banners that read, "No war, Peace now!" and "Drop Bush, not Bombs."

"We don't want bloody war!" said Kim Kwang-shik, a 21-old college student. "The war with Iraq cannot be justified by any means," he said. Thousands of people also held anti-war rallies in the country's five major cities.

At the "peace rallies," protesters urged their government not to help the United States stage the war on Iraq. "We oppose any support for the war," said Lee Young-hwa, a 25 year-old protester. Government officials said they have no plans to troops to join the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq.

War opponents also blasted the U.S. military pressure on North Korea and its refusal to negotiate with Pyongyang over the nuclear standoff. "The United States must stop war threatens on the Korean peninsula," protesters shouted.

Some South Koreans insist the United States is hindering an inter-Korean thaw in a bid to establish "military domination" in the world. "Preventing the war on Iraq will lead to avoiding the war crisis on the Korean peninsula," said Won Kyong-hwan, a 30-year-old civic activist.

Hundreds of anti-war protesters later joined an anti-American candlelight protest near the U.S. Embassy in central Seoul to mourn the deaths of two South Korean schoolgirls run over by a U.S. army vehicle.

Thousands of riot police were deployed around the U.S. Embassy building, but there were no major clashes with demonstrators.

Some South Koreans expressed concerns that the anti-war and anti-U.S. protests may hurt their country's security arrangement. "War is not good, but North Korea's nuclear threats should also be blamed," said Lee Byong-hoon, a 38-year-old medical doctor.

South Korea is a key U.S. ally and is home to 37,000 U.S. troops who have been stationed to help defend South Korea from a potential conflict with North Korea under a bilateral defense treaty signed after the Korean War.

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