Armed with rocks and bamboo staffs, students and farmers attacked club-wielding police and wrote protest messages in blood Tuesday in one of the biggest anti-U.S. demonstrations since South Korean President Kim Dae Jung took office in 1998.
Police said about 14,000 protesters massed for the demonstration, which criticized the South Korean government as well as the United States. Hundreds pounded police shields with tree branches and hurled rocks and other debris at rows of helmeted officers in downtown Seoul. Some protesters burned a U.S. flag.
Police periodically charged the demonstrators, chasing them through traffic and beating them in front of startled drivers. Several protesters bled from head wounds, and an ambulance removed at least one injured man.
One farmer was taken into police custody. Police said they detain protesters only if they injure officers.
“Kim Dae Jung government--repent!” and “Down with the United States!” shouted the protesters, who accused the Seoul government of designing policy at the behest of Washington.
There have been growing complaints about the conduct of the 37,000 U.S. soldiers deployed in South Korea as a deterrent against the threat from Communist North Korea.
A string of incidents has stirred up anti-U.S. sentiment even though most South Koreans support the American presence. Recent crimes by U.S. servicemen and a dispute over a coastal U.S. bombing range that villagers consider noisy and dangerous have fueled resentment.
On Monday, the U.S. military publicly apologized for the February dumping of 20 gallons of formaldehyde into the Han River.
Seoul and Washington have agreed to open long-stalled talks next week on revising the code governing the conduct of U.S. soldiers stationed on the Korean peninsula.
The farmers at Tuesday’s protest blamed the U.S. for pressuring South Korea into what they said was an excessive opening of the nation’s agricultural markets. Cheap imports have cut into their profits.
Eight protest leaders cut their fingers with razor blades and used their blood to write “Abolish the agricultural imports policy!” on a banner.