08/16/2006, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA – NORTH KOREA – JAPAN
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Seoul invaded by rallies on Liberation Day

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young

The day marking the end of Japanese imperialism saw myriad manifestations for and against North Korea, for and against the US, and all against Japan.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – Progressives, conservatives, trade unionists, students and nationalists yesterday invaded the city centre to have their say about current political problems. Taking advantage of the national feast marking the end of the Second World War and independence from Japanese domination, several groups organised marches and shouted slogans against the USA, for North Korea; for the USA, against North Korea; against Japan and against the government's economic and social policies.

Yesterday afternoon, thousands of people defied the rain in the central Kwanghwamun neighbourhood to protest against economic sanctions that the United States wants to impose on North Korea, calling on Seoul to support the finances of its restless neighbour. Around 7,000 people took part in the rally, most of them members of the progressive civic group, Solidarity for Unification, and "Hanchongnyon", a left-wing coalition of university student associations.

Members of one of Korea's two main trade unions the Korea Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) also joined the Kwanghwamun rally but they held their own protest, criticizing the authorities for using force against striking workers in Pohang last month, when a construction employee died. The trade unionists also shouted slogans against negotiations between South Korea and the United States for the setting up of a free trade zone. They were also against increasing the number of American troops at the Pyongtaek base in Kyonggi province. They waved the standard of anti-militarism. Oh Jong-ryul, leader of Solidarity for Unification, said: "Reunifying with our brothers in the North, bringing about the withdrawal of US troops in Korea, and guarding against the rising militarism in Japan are the most important issues for us."

Conservatives were not to be outdone. A coalition of different groups, led by Right Korea, held a rally in front of the Seoul City Hall, demanding that the US presence be strengthened and supporting the economic collaboration between Seoul and Washington. Bong Tae-ho, leader of Right Korea, slammed the policies of President, Roh Moo-hyun, saying: "This certainly is not the time to discuss a reduction of troops, when North Korea is launching missiles into our waters. It is time to look for further ways to strengthen the alliance with the US."

Further rallies were held outside the Japanese embassy. Around 3,000 people called on Tokyo to beg pardon for atrocities committed during the Second World War and to compensate children of war victims. Other groups gave vent to their rage against the Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, who only yesterday went to visit the Yasukuni Shrine to pay homage to the Japanese war dead, including people convicted of war crimes. Some shouted slogans against a bid to cancel war crimes from Japanese text books. The rally was organized by the Association for Pacific War Victims, formed by the families of Korea's World War II victims.

All these protests prompted the police to block off the main streets to the centre and to deploy at least 13,000 anti-riot police.

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