South Korean authorities launched a massive police operation to clear protesters from the future site of U.S. military headquarters in the country. While some of the protesters were local residents who face relocation, many others belonged to a group known for its anti-American sentiment.
Demonstrators in an abandoned school building in the city of Pyeongtaek were trying to block the planned expansion of a U.S. military base, just before several thousand police stormed in Thursday to evict them.
Though many of the protesters swung bamboo sticks, they were overwhelmed by the police, who took at least 100 people into custody. No life-threatening injuries were reported, though some individuals at the site of the raid were seen bleeding or unconscious.
Thursday's raid came after months of contention between the protesters and the South Korean government. Protest leaders rejected a government ultimatum Monday night to leave or face eviction by force.
A final warning came from defense officials before Thursday's raid took place.
Major-General Park Kyung-Seo says the delayed base expansion has already cost taxpayers millions of dollars, and risks becoming a diplomatic issue between South Korea and the United States.
Washington and Seoul agreed two years ago on the planned expansion of nearby U.S. Camp Humphreys, including relocation of the U.S. military command currently situated in central Seoul.
The agreement, ratified by South Korea's parliament, is part of a plan to relocate U.S. forces southward, away from the North Korean border. About 29,000 U.S. soldiers are stationed in South Korea to deter the North from a repeat of its 1950 invasion.
South Korea has offered what it describes as generous compensation to families being forced out by the expansion. Seoul's Defense Ministry says about 680 families have chosen to accept reimbursement and move, while about 70 have so far refused.
Most of Thursday's protesters were not residents of Pyeongtaek, however, but members of a nationwide umbrella organization called the Pan-National Committee to Stop Expansion of U.S. Bases. The group binds together more than 100 South Korean civic groups united mainly by anti-U.S. sentiment.
Yoo Young-jae, leader of the group, told South Korea's YTN news network Thursday the protesters view the U.S. military presence as a threat to peace.
Yoo says he believes the base relocation reflects a fundamental change in U.S. strategy, from a purely defensive position to an offensive one. However, his group has previously opposed any deployment of U.S. forces in South Korea whatsover.
South Korean military engineers began building a fence around the disputed area and plan to demolish the school building, in hopes of preventing further clashes.