- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, March 25 (UPI) — South Korea's parliament on Tuesday postponed a decision on President Roh Moo-hyun's plan to dispatch hundreds of troops to support the U.S.-led war on Iraq, delaying the vote until next month in the face of mounting public opposition.

Last week, Roh pledged support for the allied campaign and promised to dispatch non-combat troops to the Persian Gulf. Roh's plan, which was endorsed by the Cabinet, sparked strong protests across the country.

"The ruling and opposition parties decided to delay the vote on the troop dispatch," said Rep. Chung Kyun-hwan, the floor leader from the ruling Millennium Democratic Party.

Lawmakers will gather again to determine the fate of the government motion, which calls for the dispatch of about 600 military engineers and 100 medical personnel to Iraq, Chung said.

The vote would take place after Roh's parliamentary speech slated for April 2, in which the president is expected to call for people's support for the troop dispatch plan.

But it remains unclear whether the government motion would be endorsed because anti-war sentiment is rapidly spreading across the country.

The conservative opposition Grand National Party, which holds the majority in the single-chamber National Assembly, also stepped back from its position that called for a speedy dispatch of troops. Rep. Rhee Q-taek, Chung's counterpart of the opposition party, said that they needed to further coordinate opinions on the issue.

The delay in the parliamentary vote came at a time when protests against the U.S.-led war and Seoul's participation have been sweeping the country. Thousands of anti-war activists and students gathered outside the National Assembly building Tuesday for the third consecutive day to protest the troop dispatch plan.

Riot police scuffled with some 70 anti-war activists who broke into the parliamentary complex. Several were injured, police said. Clashes also erupted as scores of activists attempted to prevent National Assembly speaker Park Kwan-yong from entering the parliamentary building, an effort to block Tuesday's vote session.

Civic organizations have warned that if the lawmakers vote for the motion, they would face fierce rejection campaigns during parliamentary elections next year. The country's influential lawyers' associations condemned the troop dispatch plan, saying the U.S.-led war on Iraq was "illegal."

North Korea has also joined in the protests, threatening to cut off the inter-Korean reconciliation process. It canceled governmental talks with the South scheduled for this week, blaming Seoul for raising tensions in the wake of the war in Iraq.

In a Tuesday statement, the North's state-run press said the South Korean security moves could push the situation on the peninsula to "the brink of war."




LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide