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Hur Jin, 62, argues with Chong Kang-cha, 50, over the war against Iraq near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul Friday.

Hur Jin, 62, argues with Chong Kang-cha, 50, over the war against Iraq near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul Friday. (Jeremy Kirk / S&S)

Hur Jin’s heated harangue burst from a street corner near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul on Friday afternoon, as the 62-year-old Korean man dished out a piece of his mind to an anti-war protester.

“Are you saying U.S. should get out of this country and President Bush is doing something wrong?” boomed Hur. “I can’t stand people like you! I’m just one of these passers-by, and I can’t help talking about my conservative patriotism. That brutal terrorist [Saddam Hussein] should be erased!”

The protester, Chong Kang-cha, who stood alone among dozens of young riot police, waited impassively as Hur ranted on his belief that the U.S.-led war against Iraq is justified to maintain the world’s safety. She merely averted her eyes as Hur’s voice rose to a commanding crescendo, lavishing praise on Bush.

“He is pretty pro-American, and he has different point of view about Korean history,” said Chong, a member of the Korean Women’s Link civic group. “I do not have hostile feelings toward the United States, but its attack on Iraq didn’t go through the legal process of the U.N.”

Hur stamped his foot, saying North Korean leader Kim Jong Il should be next on the Bush hit list, shouting “Hallelujah” after his speech.

Three older men — attracted by Hur’s impassioned tirade — stopped by to lend their support. One said he remembers eating food provided by U.S. soldiers when he was 3 years old.

The debate summarizes a divided South Korean population, one that is both praising and criticizing the U.S. war against Iraq. At the same time, tensions with North Korea over its nuclear development have strained South Korea’s relationship with the United States.

On Friday, a number of protests were scheduled at U.S. military installations throughout South Korea.

About seven people gathered at Yongsan Garrison, the main U.S. Army base in Seoul, using a large, horn-shaped speaker hooked to a car battery to blast anti-U.S. slogans toward main post. Signs slammed the U.S. war against Iraq, while the protesters jeered the American presence in South Korea.

“All damages from this war will be to civilians after all,” said Lee Song-pil, a member of the Democratic Labor Party. “Iraqis haven’t done anything wrong to be killed by the United States. This is not for peace and human rights but an invasion for United States’ own interests.”

Added to the mix are talks of moving U.S. soldiers stationed near the Demilitarized Zone south or possibly reducing the number of troops here now, U.S. and South Korean officials have said. The protest — and the attack on Iraq — come at the height of the U.S. military’s Foal Eagle exercise in South Korea, designed to sharpen defenses in case of a North Korean attack.

Earlier this week, North Korea said the U.S. military has resumed spy flights, briefly stopped after a North Korean fighter intercepted a U.S. RC-135 plane on March 2.

“The evermore reckless saber-rattling of the U.S. imperialists is, in a nutshell, a premeditated move to mount a pre-emptive nuclear attack on the DPRK,” according to the Korean Central News Agency, the official North Korean mouthpiece.

On Thursday, South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun stuck by the ally he criticized during his campaign last fall. South Korea supports U.S. actions against Iraq, Roh said, and he plans to contribute 750 noncombat soldiers to the effort.

National Security Adviser Ra Jong-yil said a battalion of 500-600 military engineers and about 150 military medical officials will be sent to the war zone within seven to 11 weeks.

“We believe that this action by U.S. and the international community is inevitable after diplomatic efforts failed to promptly eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction,” Roh said.

Meanwhile, more than 600 people gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on Friday, brandishing colorful signs and shouting “Stop the war” and “Don’t attack Iraq” as police and riot squads surrounded them.

“I want [the United States] to stop the war immediately,” said Takako Watanabe, a Japanese teacher. “If you say to give up weapons, then you should be the first one to do so.”

“By watching [the] news, I thought Japan’s stance was vague. Prime Minister Koizumi didn’t pick up people’s will and opinion and justified the U.S. attack. I couldn’t sit still when I thought about what Japan had done in the past,” said Fumito Akasaka, a graduate student.

A citizens group handed out copies of a letter it wrote to Bush, which was mailed to the U.S. Embassy. It read, in part: “The duty of a major nation must be to exert itself for world peace by talks without it repeating a fault again.”

Some high school students attempted to hand a petition to the embassy but were denied by police. Arguments broke out between the protesters and police after they were stopped from crossing the street.

— Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.

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