South Korean police yesterday formally arrested 10 anti-US activists and released 27 others in the wake of violent protests last week against plans to relocate US military bases, officials said.
The demonstrations on Thursday and Friday saw protesters battling police with bamboo sticks and authorities responding with batons to evict them from a new US military base site in Pyeongtaek, about 65km south of Seoul.
The violence left more than 200 protesters and police injured.
Prosecutors secured arrest warrants for 10 of 37 protesters detained on Thursday, but were forced to release the rest after the Suwon District Court's Pyeongtaek division turned down warrants for the other 27, said a court official who requested anonymity.
"Most of them are young students and while it is true they wielded bamboo sticks, they didn't have an intention for violence or previous records of taking part in protests," the official said.
Prosecutors were awaiting word from the court on whether they can press charges against 23 others detained on Friday, and whether they can seek the rearrest of those already released, prosecution spokesman Kang Chan-woo said.
For months, villagers and anti-US activists have impeded work to expand US base Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek following a 2004 agreement between Seoul and Washington to move the US military command there from its current headquarters in central Seoul.
On Thursday, authorities sent more than 10,000 riot police to the site, evicting protesters and destroying a school used as a base for the protesters. Army engineers also set up wire fences around the site to keep outsiders away.
But activists returned on Friday to stage more protests. TV footage showed stick-brandishing demonstrators cutting fences and beating unarmed troops guarding the site.
Several villages on the outskirts of Pyeongtaek, a city of 360,000 people, must be razed for the base construction.
The government has offered residents financial compensation to move out, but some 70 households continue to resist, according to the Defense Ministry.