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South Koreans split over the United States
( 2003-08-16 16:54) (Agencies)

Thousands of protesters rallied near the United States' main military base in Seoul on Saturday, demanding an end to the South Korea-US alliance - but blocks away, 500 demonstrators marched in support of the Americans.

The rallies highlighted the division among South Koreans on how they view their nation's main ally and trading partner amid tensions over North Korea's suspected development of nuclear weapons.

The protests came a day after President Roh Moo-hyun lamented the split, saying both sides were ``trapped in the mentality of the past ideological confrontation.''

``Throw out South Korea-US alliance! Let's preserve peace through South-North cooperation!'' read banners held by the anti-US group - mostly students and activists - near Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul.

The 2,000 protesters, blocking a six-lane boulevard in front of base, demanded the withdrawal of American troops stationed in South Korea.

``As long as the US military stays here, there will be no peace on the Korean Peninsula,'' said protest leader and head of the Democratic Labor Party, Kwon Young-kil.

The protesters supported the North's demand for a nonaggression treaty with the United States in return for Pyongyang giving up its nuclear programs. Washington rejects such a treaty, but says it could provide a less formal guarantee.

About 500 meters (yards) away, 500 Korean War veterans and other activists held a very different rally, many of them waving US and South Korean flags.

Graying marchers held banners reading"They accused anti-US activists of hurting the ``blood-tied alliance'' between South Korea and the United States, who fought together against communist North Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War.

The pro-US demonstrators marched toward their rival protesters, but were blocked by riot police.

Most South Koreans support the US military presence, but anti-American sentiment has risen since two Korean girls died after being run over by a US military vehicle last year.

The United States keeps 37,000 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the Korean War that ended in a cease-fire and left the Koreas divided.

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