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Asia

South Koreans to protest against 'war maniac' Trump

Thousands of South Koreans are expected to turn out for demonstrations during President Donald Trump's upcoming visit. Many say the US leader is bringing the Korean Peninsula to a state of crisis. Julian Ryall reports.

A coalition of around 220 left-wing organizations has announced plans to demonstrate in Seoul during President Donald Trump's upcoming state visit to South Korea, with the groups fiercely critical of the US leader for ramping up tensions with North Korea.

The groups have promised to mobilize thousands of protesters during Trump's visit, scheduled for November 7 and 8, the second leg of the president's 11-day trip through Asia. The demonstrators say they will begin to show their opposition to Trump's visit and his policies even before he arrives in South Korea, with the first rally due to start on Saturday, November 4, outside the US Embassy in central Seoul.

The anti-US alliance has adopted the slogan "No Trump, No War People's Rally" and is demanding that efforts be made to engage North Korea rather than to threaten the regime of Kim Jong Un. Members of other groups that are joining the movement have additional demands, including members of agricultural cooperatives who want to scrap a trade deal that they believe puts South Korean famers at a disadvantage in trade.

UN Generalversammlung in New York | Donald Trump & Moon Jae In (picture-alliance/AP Photos/E. Vucci)

South Korean President Moon Jae In has ruled out war with North Korea

State media highlights

Unsurprisingly, North Korean state media have jumped on the protests and are highlighting the planned protests against "war maniac Trump's South Korea visit."

In a news story, Pyongyang's state-run Korea Central News Agency (KCNA), said opposition parties and trade unions had launched a "solidarity struggle," and speakers at a press conference on Saturday were "taking out their rage, saying that the tense situation on the Korean Peninsula would get sharper with Trump's visit."

"Noting [that] Trump is not entitled to set his feet on South Korean land, they urged him to promise to apologize for his reckless remarks at once and not to ignite a war," it added.

Read more: Philippines' Duterte: 'Somebody has to talk to Kim Jong Un'

The Rodong Sinmun newspaper added that South Korean protesters had "denounced war lunatic Trump's hysteria for a nuclear war against the DPRK" and added that the only reason war has so far been avoided on the peninsula is because North has nuclear weapons of its own.

Despite Pyongyang's efforts to whip up opposition to Trump, analysts do not believe the protests will be on a significant scale.

"I do not believe they will be all that big because the vast majority of South Korean people are extremely worried about the threat posed to our safety by the North Korean regime," said Song Young Chae, a professor at the Center for Global Creation and Collaboration at Seoul's Sangmyung University.

"Most people have come to the conclusion that the best way to safeguard the South is for Seoul and Washington to demonstrate the determined will to protect the peninsula from war," he told DW.

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'Show of strength'

"Rather than peace talks - which will go nowhere, and the North will in any case ignore whenever it suits their ends - it is more important to show military strength," Song said.

"And while there will be some demonstrations against the president, I do not believe they will have much impact because these people are not so many and not so mainstream," he said, adding that there was a common belief among many in the South that left-leaning groups that express solidarity with the North or its policies have been infiltrated by Pyongyang's agents in order to destabilize society in the South.

Garren Mulloy, an associate professor of international relations at Japan's Daito Bunka University, agrees that it would be "standard practice" for the North to work with any organizations that identify themselves as being anti-American and can serve as a temporary ally to further Pyongyang's agenda.

"It is entirely possible that these protests are at least in part encouraged by North Korean provocateurs, either by choice or coercion," he told DW.

Yet, he points out, South Koreans arguably have more to be angry about the US leadership today than they have for some years.

"Feelings are running high there at the moment over long-standing problems in the South Korea-US relationship, such as the US bases there, the deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system, left-wing groups opposing the military alliance, others calling for dialogue with the North and so on," Mulloy added.

"There are some people there who still want to push the 'Sunshine Policy' of previous South Korean leaders, but Trump - in his usual unpredictable way - has also said some things that have really upset the Koreans," he added.

Read more: US-North Korea 'back-channel talks happening'

Accusations against allies

Even before he was sworn in as president, Trump essentially accused many of Washington's security allies of not pulling their weight. South Korea was on that list and Trump hinted that if Seoul did not pay more for the US military presence, he would order the troops to leave.

After South Korean President Moon Jae In assumed office in May, Trump appeared to suggest that he was being "soft" towards the North when the only language that Kim Jong Un would understand was force.

"He never said anything, but I find it hard to believe that Moon could not take offence at Trump's comments, as well as the nation at large," Mulloy said. "US government officials moved quickly to smooth things over, but the damage had been done."

There is a widely shared feeling in the South that Trump's aggressive rhetoric towards the North has precipitated the present crisis on the peninsula, while there are also no guarantees that he will be able to avoid another undiplomatic incident during his visit to South Korea.

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