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Hundreds of thousands protest U.S. occupation

By Deirdre Griswold

The biggest protests to date against the U.S. military occupation of South Korea took place Dec. 14.

In the capital, Seoul, an estimated 100,000 people gathered in front of City Hall. They tore apart four large U.S. flags, then raised a huge Korean flag over the crowd while chanting, "We don't want war in Korea!"

All told, organizers said 300,000 people took part in the day of protest in 57 Korean cities, plus Korean communities in the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Sweden, Russia, Great Britain, Australia, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand.

The Rev. Han Sang Ryol led the huge crowd in Seoul in chanting, "Let us take back Korean self-determination!" Han had just returned from Washington, where he led a delegation that attempted to hand President George W. Bush petitions signed by 1.3 million people. The White House refused to receive the delegation, so people picketed outside, surrounded by a heavy police presence.

The petitions demand a change in the Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and South Korea, a trial in a Korean court of U.S. soldiers who drove a 50-ton tank over two Korean schoolgirls in June, and an apology from Bush over the soldiers' exoneration by the U.S. military.

The two young girls, Shim Mi-sun and Shin Hyo-soon, were crushed by the speeding tank while walking to a birthday party.

A U.S. military court wouldn't even find the soldiers guilty of reckless manslaughter. When angry protests erupted all over South Korea in November after the acquittals, Bush made a half-hearted apology, but the Korean people saw it as too little, too late.

The anger in Korea since this incident has been volcanic. Anti-U.S. demonstrations have erupted all over the country, including at U.S. bases where, for the first time in years, Molotov cocktails were thrown. Restaurants started posting signs reading "Americans not welcome."

Politicians have been forced to endorse the mass demand for changes in the SOFA agreement, which has allowed Pentagon courts to have jurisdiction even when U.S. soldiers commit assault and murder against Korean civilians.

More and more, the demonstrations are calling for the removal of U.S. troops from Korea. There have been at least 37,000 stationed there ever since the Korean War, and the United States has opposed signing a peace treaty with North Korea that would end a permanent state of war now over 50 years old. The Bush administration's intensified hostility against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the north--Bush has called it a "terrorist state"--came right after the north and south held historic talks on normalizing relations and reuniting families that have been divided ever since the war.

The Korean people passionately want reunification, and increasingly understand that it is the U.S. occupation that prevents it. Now, for the first time, the demonstrators are outnumbering the troops.

Two students in the city of Daegu, 200 miles southeast of Seoul, broke into a U.S. military base on Dec. 14 and climbed onto a 100-ft. water tank. Television footage showed the students, draped in South Korean flags, shouting, "Retry them in our court," before being arrested by South Korean police.

Participants in the Seoul protest included survivors of the Nogun-ri massacre--three days of infamy during the Korean War when U.S. soldiers machine-gunned to death hundreds of civilian refugees who had tried to take shelter in a railroad underpass. Details of that horrendous event were unearthed by Associated Press reporters two years ago and publicized last year in a BBC documentary.

Korean groups have unearthed the sites of many similar massacres during the war. Survivors have come forward and told their stories. An international tribunal in New York in June 2001, organized by the Korea Truth Commission and the International Action Center, heard from some of them. The tribunal then indicted the U.S. government for war crimes.

As the Bush administration continues its demonization of North Korea, using that as an excuse for its continued occupation of the south, the movement to get the troops out vows to intensify its efforts.

Reprinted from the Dec. 26, 2002, issue of Workers World newspaper
This article is copyrighted under a Creative Commons License.
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