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ROK Braces for More Protests Against Impeachment

The Republic of Korea (ROK) braced for more street rallies Sunday after anti-impeachment activists promised daily protests against the Parliament's unprecedented vote to oust President Roh Moo-hyun.

About 50,000 angry demonstrators streamed into the streets of downtown Seoul on Saturday night, singing songs, waving candles and holding placards reading, "nullify impeachment" or "impeachment makes no sense." The movement against Roh's impeachment has found support not only among his political backers, but also from civic groups that have criticized alleged corruption in Roh's administration, his decision to send troops to Iraq and his recent tussle with authorities over illegal campaign funds ahead of next month's parliamentary elections.


Dubbed by some as a "coup without guns," the opposition-controlled Parliament stunned the nation on Friday by impeaching Roh on charges of violating election rules and incompetence.


Opinion polls show that about seven in 10 in the country oppose the impeachment.


In the run-up to the controversial vote -- the first in the ROK history -- one Roh supporter set himself on fire and another tried to drive his car up the National Assembly steps and into the building.


But protests have been mostly peaceful.


The People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, a civic group that sponsored Saturday's protest, called for nightly rallies in downtown Seoul to oppose what it calls the "oppression by the majority under the pretext of law."


The group is often critical of Roh, but says the impeachment goes overboard.


The opposition Grand National and Millennium Democratic parties accuse Roh of breaking election laws by stumping for the Uri Party in the upcoming April 15 parliamentary poll. Roh doesn't belong to the Uri Party but has said he wants to join.


Government officials are not allowed to campaign for political parties under the ROK law, but the National Elections Commission ruled Roh's infraction was minor, not warranting criminal charges. All the same, the opposition parties have demanded an apology.


Prime Minister Goh Kun has assumed executive powers while the Constitutional Court rules on whether Roh's impeachment was constitutional. They have up to six months to decide.


Roh was to name his legal defense team as soon as Sunday, the Yonhap News Agency reported. The nine-justice court will convene on Thursday to review the case.


(China Daily March 14, 2004)

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