South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun yesterday promised economic assistance for the communist North if it ends its suspected nuclear weapons program -- an incentive Washington refuses to offer.
Roh's comments on the 58th anniversary of the Korean Peninsula's liberation from Japan at the end of World War II came ahead of Aug. 27-29 multilateral talks in Beijing aimed at defusing the nuclear tension.
"North Korea should not miss this opportunity," Roh said. "When the North gives up its nuclear programs, the South is willing to take the lead in helping develop its economy."
Roh's offer came a day after US Secretary of State Colin Powell said Washington is not offering economic assistance as an incentive for North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions.
The US, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas will take part in the Beijing talks.
Roh also stressed the need for US troops in South Korea, as well as a strong military defense.
"Things will not work out simply by crying out against the withdrawal of the American troops," Roh said. "Self-reliant national defense by no means contradicts the Korea-US alliance. They are mutually complementary."
Hours after Roh's speech, however, 3,000 activists and students, some beating gongs and drums, marched in downtown Seoul, chanting anti-US and anti-Japanese slogans.
"Let's drive out US troops!" the protesters shouted, carrying banners emblazoned with similar slogans.
They also demanded a nonaggression treaty between North Korea and the US, echoing a key demand of Pyongyang which accuses Washington of plotting an invasion.
The demonstrators accused Japan of trying to revive its past militarism.
"Japan should repent!" they chanted.