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S. Korea Should Rely Less on US, says Roh - 2004-03-01

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has called for South Korea to reduce its dependence on his country's closest ally, the United States. The statement came during a national address marking the 85th anniversary of an uprising against Japanese colonial rule.

South Korean leader Roh Moo-hyun told his country Monday that it needs to strengthen its independence from the United States and hinted that Seoul should formulate a more autonomous foreign policy.

The comments echo earlier statements from Mr. Roh, who was elected in December 2002 on a pledge to rethink ties with Washington. The United States military has 37,000 troops in South Korea to help guard against an attack by communist North Korea. The U.S. military presence has at times been controversial, though polls show a majority of South Koreans continue to support it.

Mr. Roh was speaking Monday to commemorate an uprising against Japanese colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula in 1919. Mr. Roh said "step by step, South Korea should strengthen its independence and build strength as an independent nation."

The call came two days after multiparty talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis closed in Beijing without any major progress. During the speech, Mr. Roh said North Korea's nuclear weapons program is problematic for the inter-Korean relationship and he noted that his nation wants the matter resolved.

Also Monday, an estimated 30,000 South Koreans marked the Independence Movement holiday by protesting against North Korea's nuclear programs and human rights abuses in that nation.

Demonstrators rallied in central Seoul, waving South Korean and American flags and called for an end to the Kim Jong Il government in North Korea. They burned two North Korean flags and showed pictures of starving children from the impoverished Stalinist state.

Most of the activists were elderly war veterans and conservative Christians.

North Korea also commemorated the anniversary on Monday. Through a state-run newspaper, Pyongyang called on all Koreans to work toward reunification of the divided Korean peninsula and urged them to struggle for independence against foreign forces.