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Seoul Rally Celebrates South Korean Independence

South Koreans are celebrating their country's Independence Day holiday. Some South Koreans, particularly members of the older generation, also used the occasion to lobby the government for a firmer approach in dealing with North Korea.

Traditional South Korean music set a mood of nationalism in downtown Seoul, where thousands gathered for a long day of rallies marking South Korea's Independence Day holiday.

On March 1, 1919, Koreans held nationwide protests against the Japanese colonial government. The show of resistance failed, but is widely viewed as the first step in South Korea's eventual independence in 1945.

Activists used this year's occasion to criticize the South Korean government for what they view as an overly passive approach to North Korea's human rights abuses, and provocations toward the South.

Kim Moon-soo, a conservative member of the National Assembly, told the crowd the government must hold Pyongyang more accountable for South Koreans believed to be held prisoner in North Korea.

Mr. Kim accuses North Korea of holding at least one-thousand South Koreans. He says about half of those are prisoners of war who were never returned after a 1953 armistice halted the Korean War, and the other half have been abducted from South Korea in the years since the armistice.

The issue of war prisoners and abductees is emotionally sensitive for older Koreans. The overwhelming majority of those in attendance at the rally in Seoul appeared to be in their 70's and 80's.

Younger South Koreans generally tend to support the ruling Uri party of President Roh Moo-hyun, which aims to avoid antagonizing North Korea whenever it can. The party claims its policy of economic contacts and peaceful engagement are bringing about gradual reform in the North.

President Roh marked Independence Day at a separate event, where he called for Japan to make "sincere efforts" to apologize and offer compensation for abuses during its colonial past.

Many Koreans were forced to abandon their language and culture during Japan's 35-year rule of the peninsula. Many others were forced into slave labor.