SEOUL: In the latest of a series of rallies, over 20,000 South Koreans holding candles gathered in downtown Seoul on New Year’s Eve to protest the deaths of two teenage girls hit by a US armoured military vehicle.
“Punish the murderous American soldiers! Bring them to our court!’’ they shouted, filling a 10-lane boulevard. The evening street was illuminated with candles held in paper cups.
Many of the protesters, bundled up in scarves and overcoats, were out on the streets for New Year’s celebrations.
One block away, the US Embassy was surrounded by police buses and officers armed with helmets and plastic shields.
Hundreds of students confronted police 100m from the embassy, shouting “Move back!’’ No clash was reported.
Anti-US sentiment has risen sharply in South Korea, a key US ally, since the two US soldiers whose vehicle killed the girls in June were cleared of negligent homicide charges in US military courts last month.
The acquittals sparked large protests calling for retrials in a South Korean court. Some even urged the withdrawal of the 37,000 US troops stationed in South Korea.
South Korean political leaders, including President Kim Dae-jung, have appealed to people to end the protests, saying they could hurt Seoul’s long-standing friendship with the United States.
Many South Koreans are demanding a revision of an accord with Washington to give their country more jurisdiction over US soldiers here. – AP