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President: “Avoid Violent Clashes with Protesters”

Posted March. 21, 2003 22:17,   


With regard to some civic groups’ anti-war protests against the U.S.-led war against Iraq, President Roh Moo-hyun told government officials that the police should do their best to maintain order at protest scenes and avoid any reckless and violent clash with the protesters.

Senior Presidential Secretary for State Affairs Yoo In-tae reported to the president in a meeting of presidential aides and secretaries that a coalition of some civic groups have been staging protests against the U.S.-led war since the evening of March 20.

“I would like to ask the state affairs secretary to work out countermeasures to avoid an unwanted situation where anti-war protests become violent,” Presidential Deputy Spokesman Kim Man-soo quoted the president as telling Presidential Secretary Yoo.

The President also expressed his concern over the safety of some Koreans by asking, “Do government officials still keep in touch with those Koreans who went to Iraq to participate in creating a human shield as part of the international anti-war protests?” National Security Aide to the President Na Jong-il replied, “Yes, we do, president.”

With respect to the mounting ant-war sentiment across the nation, the national security aide explained, “It is natural for the public to express their opposition to the war in that Korean society is mature and the voice of the protesters should be interpreted as the voice of the conscience in our society. Therefore, the government should listen and respect their opinions as much as possible.”

“In Japan, although around 80% of the Japanese population were against the war, the Japanese government declared its support for the Iraqi war,” Ban Ki-moon, foreign policy aide to the president also emphasized. “This issue is a matter of choice and our government also a difficult decision to support the war for the interest of our nation.”

Moon Jae-in, senior presidential secretary said with mixed feelings, “It is a lamentable and urgent situation and we have to seek ways on how to cope with the situation.”

Meanwhile, public protests against the war topped the list of topics discussed in the National Assembly’s special session. Chi Eun-hee, Gender Equality Minister insisted, “The government should accommodate the anti-war movement and try to relieve the suffering of the Iraqi people.”

Culture and Tourism Minister Lee Chang-dong also said, “Although the government decided to send noncombatant forces to Iraq, the public won’t be easily persuaded to accept the government’s decision. It is important for the police not to forcefully disperse the protesters.”

Meanwhile, since the president declared his support for the military campaign against Iraq, more than 1000 messages regarding the pros and cons of the war were posted on the official website of Cheong Wa Dae. Although, at the beginning, messages criticizing his decision had outnumbered those of support, until now, a growing number of people have been posting messages, like “It is an understandable decision for the president of a country without power.”

Jeong-Hun Kim Dong-Ki Sung jnghn@donga.com esprit@donga.com