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S. Korean Government Faces Protests Over Kidnap, Murder in Iraq - 2004-06-24

South Korea's government faces growing protests over its handling of the kidnapping of a young Korean civilian in Iraq, who was later beheaded by his captors. Protesters are demanding the government pull its troops out of Iraq, and cancel plans to send more soldiers to help U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country.

Hundreds of people gathered in downtown Seoul Thursday evening, for one of a series of candlelight protests scheduled in South Korea this week.

The protesters sang in memory of Kim Sun-il, a South Korean translator who was kidnapped and beheaded by Iraqi militants earlier this week. The nation's shock at the brutal murder is now turning to anger, and there are increasing calls for the government to pull its 670 troops out Iraq and cancel plans to send 3,000 more.

President Roh Moo-hyun has pledged to go ahead with the deployment. His government, however, is increasingly under attack, along with President Bush and the overall U.S. policy in Iraq.

At Thursday's protest, participants held signs saying "Bush and Roh killed Kim Sun-il." Other posters showed pictures of South Korea's foreign minister with his face crossed out.

Mr. Roh has ordered an investigation into Mr. Kim's kidnapping and the government's handling of it. There are reports that Mr. Kim was actually kidnapped around May 31, and that South Korean officials knew this but kept it quiet.

The kidnapping came to light just a few days ago, and Mr. Kim's body was found Wednesday morning. While some South Korean newspaper editorials continue to back the troop deployment, they are demanding a full accounting from the government.

The protests and growing anti-war movement could become a challenge for Mr. Roh, who last month survived an impeachment attempt over a campaign-law violation. The former labor activist has long relied on young, more liberal voters for his support - but they appear to dominate many of the protests.

An alliance of more than 200 anti-war and religious groups say they will join with the country's labor unions for a massive protest rally in Seoul on Saturday.