South Korea arrests 167 after anti-Bush protests

SEOUL — South Korean police used water cannon and arrested 167 people to break up protests in the evening and overnight against the visit of US President George W. Bush, officers said Wednesday.

A total of 155 people were arrested overnight, a spokesman for the National Police Agency told AFP.

Twelve others were held earlier for staging an anti-war rally at a military airport near Seoul, where Air Force One landed Tuesday evening.

Demonstrators protesting against Korea’s resumption of US beef imports and against Bush’s visit held a peaceful candlelit rally in a central Seoul plaza later in the evening.

Police fired water cannon, laced with tear-causing chemicals and dye to identify offenders, after the crowd dispersed into neighboring streets. Unauthorized political protest marches after sunset are illegal in South Korea.

Police said 2,700 people took part in the candlelit rally while organizers put the number at 10,000.

“Down with Lee Myung-Bak!” and “We oppose Bush’s trip,” demonstrators chanted. A student trampled on a picture of Bush and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak bearing the slogan: “No Bush. No mad cow.”

Police have stationed about 7,000 officers to guard Bush while 17,000 more are being deployed to control protests.

South Korea’s April decision to resume US beef imports, which were suspended in 2003 over mad cow disease fears, sparked months of street protests.

The rallies largely subsided after Seoul secured extra health safeguards for US beef imports. Attendance Tuesday was tiny compared to protests earlier in the summer.

On Tuesday afternoon some 30,000 military veterans, rightwing activists and conservative Christians staged a rally in support of Bush’s visit, according to police estimates.