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S Korea protesters fight police again over US base

By Staff
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PYONGTAEK, South Korea, May 5 (Reuters) South Korean protesters clashed with police for the second day today at a planned site for a new US military base, and several people were hurt, witnesses said.

Yesterday, military engineers moved in and cordoned off two townships about 70 km (44 miles) south of Seoul, where South Korea and the United States have agreed to relocate the main US base now in Seoul and several others across the country.

Scores of protesters, police and several journalists were wounded as riot police cleared the way for the engineers, fighting street battles with protesters and eventually overpowering them.

Friday's fight started outside the townships as about 1,500 anti-US protesters and unionists regrouped overnight and began marching into the fenced-off site.

Reuters photographer Lee Jae-won saw several people on both sides hurt in fisticuffs. But unlike in the clash yesterday, neither the police nor protesters were armed with batons or sticks.

The confrontation that erupted yesterday had been brewing for months as about 100 farmers refused to vacate the area.

Last ditch talks between the government and residents aimed at a compromise broke down on Monday. Local residents who remained, mostly elderly farmers, and protesters have said no amount of compensation would justify the move.

''Do not insult the residents who are fighting here,'' said Kim Ji-tae, who leads the farmers remaining and protesters in the area, in an open letter to President Roh Moo-hyun today.

''As we said a number of times, we are not interested in compensation. What we want is to continue living here.'' Defence Minister Yoon Kwang-ung said the base relocation, which had been agreed to by Seoul and Washington in 2004 and authorised by South Korea's parliament, could no longer wait.

He said the delay was caused by opponents of US military presence in the country who have taken advantage of the farmers.

About 30,000 US troops are stationed in the country alongside the South Korean military to guard against possible aggression by communist North Korea.

South and North Korea remain technically at war under a truce that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

REUTERS OM PM1545

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