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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — A recent survey found that while a majority of South Koreans expressed negative feelings about the United States, most also backed keeping U.S. troops in their country.

About 32 percent of South Koreans say U.S. forces should leave their nation, the survey concluded. That’s a 10 percent increase over those taking that stance in a 1992 study.

But the survey, funded by the Chosun Ilbo newspaper and conducted by Gallup Korea, also found that 55 percent were against pulling out the 37,000 U.S. servicemembers now in South Korea. About 13 percent had no opinion.

About 1,054 people 20 and older, living throughout that country, were surveyed randomly Dec. 14, pollsters said. The poll had a 3-point margin of error.

When asked how they felt about the United States, 6 percent said “very good;” 31 percent, “good;” 33 percent, “bad” and 20 percent, “very bad.” About 9 percent had no comment.

Asked how they felt about North Korea, 47 percent said they felt either good or very good; about 37 percent said they felt either bad or very bad; 16 percent had no comment.

South Korea’s older generation — usually people over 50 who have some memory of the Korean War — typically support the presence of U.S. forces as a deterrent against North Korea.

But the younger generation — fueled by nationalism, a first-world economy and feelings of independence — are more apt to oppose the stationing of a foreign army on their soil, the survey found.

South Korean-U.S. relations have been strained on many levels during 2002. The deaths of two South Korean schoolgirls, run over by a U.S. armored vehicle in June, propelled both peaceful and violent protests outside U.S. bases.

North Korea admitted frankly in October that it had been working secretly on nuclear weapons in violation of numerous international agreements.

That admission has pitted the United States and South Korea against each other. South Korea’s government generally has favored active engagement and negotiation, while the Bush administration has spurned contacts until North Korea drops its nuclear program.

Outgoing South Korean President Kim Dae-jung steadfastly threw his support behind U.S. forces. His public statements discouraged protesters while backing new housing construction at Yongsan Garrison, a sprawling 800-acre compound in central Seoul.

“U.S. troops should remain in Korea,” the Dec. 17 Korea Times quoted Kim as saying. “Their necessity is being acutely felt by our armed forces.”

His successor, President-elect Roh Moo-hyun, said he would work to reform the status of forces agreement. The agreement lays out rules for the legal status of U.S. forces in South Korea.

His tough talk attracted younger voters seeking more equity in the U.S.-Korea relationship. But since the Dec. 19 election, Roh backed off his tough anti-U.S. language, saying much of it was made in the heat of the campaign.

— Choe Song-won contributed to this report.


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