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South Koreans protest Biden’s visit to Seoul amid heavy police presence

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Protesters hold placards at an anti-US rally in Seoul on Friday. (Photo by Getty Images)

Hundreds of South Koreans have gathered outside a hotel where US President Joe Biden is staying in Seoul, protesting against the visit which they say is set to stoke tensions and war in the Korean Peninsula.

They crowded in front of both the Grand Hyatt Seoul hotel and the presidential office nearby in Seoul's Yongsan District, where Biden is staying during his state visit to the country.

The US president arrived in Seoul on Friday as part of a six-day tour to South Korea and Japan with the aim of discussing various issues, including tensions with North Korea.

Seoul's police said they had received about 50 different notices for street demonstrations mostly in objection to Biden's visit.

On Friday, a group of about 60 protesters objected to his presence. Some 200 protesters from a pro-Korean unification group and another 200 from a different group are set to hold a press conference and street demonstrations in front of the National Museum of Korea and the War Memorial of Korea on Saturday when the Seoul-Washington summit is held at President Yoon Suk-yeol's office.

Cordoning off the area in front of Biden’s hotel, police said they had assembled some 7,200 officers from 120 divisions on Saturday for maintaining security as the two presidents held the summit.

Biden's visit is mainly about establishing "a strong personal relationship" with Yoon, who is less than two weeks into his presidency, a US official said, but added it also focuses on issues such as tensions over North Korea as well as the US-led campaign to sanction Russia for its military operation in Ukraine. 

Biden's Asia trip "is about demonstrating unity and resolve and strengthening the coordination between our closest allies,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

However, the visit is overshadowed by what the US official called "saber-rattling" across the heavily fortified border in North Korea, which the White House believes might use the high-profile moment to test either a nuclear-capable missile or explosive.

South Korean intelligence has also warned that Pyongyang had recently completed preparations for a nuclear test.

Biden, Yoon signal expanded drills due to N Korea 'threat'

Biden and Yoon said following their meeting that they would consider stepping up joint military exercises in response to what they claimed to be a "threat" from North Korea.

In a statement, the two leaders said, "Considering the evolving threat posed by" North Korea, they "agree to initiate discussions to expand the scope and scale of combined military exercises and training on and around the Korean Peninsula."

Yoon also noted he and his American counterpart are committed to the North's "complete denuclearization," adding that "nothing is more important than a strong deterrence against the North.”

North Korea, which has been under rounds of crushing UN sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, has ramped up missile launches this year, conducting 16 weapons tests, including of an intercontinental ballistic missile (IBM) at full range for the first time since 2017.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un recently vowed to expedite the country's nuclear deterrence, amid stalled denuclearization talks with the United States.

The Biden administration has failed to restart diplomatic talks with Pyongyang as tensions escalate.

Former US President Donald Trump attempted to court Pyongyang, and even though he met with the North Korean leader three times, he refused to relieve any of the sanctions in return for the several steps taken by Pyongyang toward denuclearization.

That hampered further diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington and prompted Kim to announce an end to a moratorium on the country’s missile tests.

Biden, Yoon express concern over N Korea's Covid outbreak

Elsewhere in their statement, Biden and Yoon expressed "concern over the recent Covid-19 outbreak" in North Korea, saying, they "are willing to work with the international community to provide assistance" to Pyongyang to help fight the epidemiological crisis.

The South Korean president said the offer of COVID-19 aid was being made according to "humanitarian principles, separate from political and military issues" with Pyongyang.


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