Heavily armed police officers and an armored vehicle guard the U.S. Embassy in Seoul to prevent possible protests opposing U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to Seoul, Monday. The U.S. President will stay here from Tuesday through Wednesday. / Yonhap
By Kim Rahn
Clashes between progressives and conservatives are expected today, as the former plans to hold a rally opposing U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to Korea, while the latter plans to hold a rally welcoming him.
A civic coalition, which organized protests against American beef imports since early May, plans to hold a candlelit protest at Cheonggye Plaza in downtown Seoul at 7 p.m., to call for renegotiation of the beef deal.
``We predict more than 10,000 citizens will participate. We'll show Korean people's voice to Bush,'' a member of the coalition said.
Other anti-U.S. rallies are scheduled ― college students' groups against the beef imports will rally near Kyobo Book Center building at 1:30 p.m., while the Korean Action Against Dispatch of Troops to Iraq will stage a protest in front of Bosingak Bell in Jongno at 5:30 p.m. The groups will join in the candlelit protest afterward.
On the other hand, a coalition comprised of 374 conservative groups, including the New Right Union and Korean Veterans Association, will stage a large-scale demonstration welcoming Bush, at Seoul Plaza, just a short distance from the progressive's rally site.
They will hold a prayer meeting organized by the Christian Council of Korea at 4 p.m., which will then be followed by the welcoming gathering. The coalition expects 50,000 participants at the prayer meeting, and 200,000 at the gathering.
They first planned to rally at Cheonggye Plaza, but changed the venue as progressive groups had already reported their demonstration plan there to police.
``We do not understand why the progressive coalition opposes Bush's visit. Is their target America, not American beef?'' the New Right Union said in a statement.
The progressive coalition countered that conservative groups ``may intentionally clash with us, so that they can claim we are illegal and violent protesters.''
About 8,000 riot police will be mobilized near the rally sites. ``As Bush's visit is an occasion when international attention is paid, we urge civic groups to abide by the law, so that they will not damage national interests or cause diplomatic trouble,'' a police officer said.