Tens of Thousands of South Korean Christians Rally to Support U.S. Military, Condemn North Korea

Jan 13, 2003 01:13 PM EST

SEOUL, South Korea - Pleading to God for peace on the divided Korean Peninsula, 30,000 Christians rallied Saturday to support the U.S. military presence in South Korea and condemn North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons program.

"Lord, we need U.S. troops," chanted the crowd, predominantly Protestant churchgoers, at the plaza before Seoul City Hall. "God, please help North Korea repent and stop developing nuclear weapons."

Participants waved small South Korean flags and let loose thousands of green balloons into the overcast winter sky, shouting "Hallelujah!" Some held U.S. flags.

During a prayer blaring from loudspeakers, pastor Kil Ja-yeon asked God to keep U.S. troops in South Korea to deter communist North Korea, and thousands of followers jumped up and down chanting fervently, "My Lord, My Lord."

The unusual pro-U.S. street demonstration, organized by the General Association of Christian Organizations, a major Christian umbrella group, came amid rising international tension over North Korea's withdrawal Friday from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, a global nuclear arms control pact.

The communist North surprised the world in December by deciding to restart nuclear facilities that were frozen under a deal with the United States in 1994.

Organizers of Saturday's demonstration warned that widespread anti-American sentiment in South Korea might lead to the withdrawal of U.S. troops and endanger the country's security.

"Weird and funny! I have never seen anything like this," said Kim Myong-ho, 22, a college student who believes the U.S. military should be withdrawn to ease tensions with North Korea.

But Moon Jong-won, 55, who participated in Saturday's rally, worried that young South Koreans failed to understand the North Korean threat.

"This is not a time for anti-American protests, but a time for an anti-North Korea and pro-peace movement," he said.

Demonstrators held signs reading: "We oppose the anti-American movement" or "Lord, give North Korea real political change."

The rally was in contrast with a recent series of anti-U.S. street demonstrations by tens of thousands of activists protesting the deaths in June of two South Korean teenage girls struck by a U.S. military vehicle.

Two U.S. soldiers in the vehicle were acquitted of negligent homicide charges in U.S. military courts in November. That touched off candlelight vigils by South Koreans. Activists have used the vigils to demand an end to the U.S. military presence in South Korea.

Most South Koreans support a U.S. military presence, but many also complain about crimes involving U.S. soldiers.

Demonstrators on Saturday demanded that a legal code with the United States be revised to give South Korea more jurisdiction over U.S. troops, but opposed the candlelight vigils.

"We should not do things that hurt Americans' sentiment, especially at times like this," said Chung Jin-kyong, 34.

About 37,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.

By Albert H. Lee
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