Hours before he arrived for the much-anticipated speech, originally scheduled for 11 a.m. but delayed by about 20 minutes, the atmosphere in and outside the National Assembly was tense.
|US President Donald Trump waves to South Korean lawmakers after he finished his parliamentary speech at the National Assembly in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)|
Protesters rallying for and against Trump clashed outside the parliamentary building in Yeouido, Seoul, a reminder of a society split on how to view the outspoken US leader who at times has threatened to take military action against North Korea, which many here believe would lead to tremendous losses of life in Korea.
As US President Trump and first lady Melania Trump entered the Assembly Chamber at 11:20 a.m., parliamentarians and the audience stood -- many of them holding out their smartphone to take photos.
Wearing a blue tie and US flag pin, Trump exchanged nods with National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun and took the podium in front of an audience of 550, including 299 lawmakers and specially invited guests.
Trump, in the first part of his speech, stressed the importance of the Korea-US alliance and to highlight the remarkable achievement that S. Korea has made in both economy and democracy since the 1950-53 Korean War. He described how South Korea climbed from “total devastation” to become one of “the greatest nations on Earth,” continuing the pleasant mood. When the US leader talked about South Korean golfers leading the US Open competitions, both applause and laughter filled the chamber.
As Trump finally moved on to North Korea, the widely expected main topic of the speech, some expressions in the audience turned grim. When he talked of “peace through strength” and the end of US tolerance for N. Korean provocations and threats, some liberal politicians expressed their uneasiness by withholding applause.
Two lawmakers, Rep. Yoon Jong-o and Kim Jong-hoon of the progressive Minjung Party, did not applaud through the speech at all. The two have been critical of the United States’ approach to the North. They held out a placard after the speech ended.
Before the speech began, three-term lawmaker Cho Won-jin of the Patriot Party of Korea was forced to leave the chamber. He had walked in holding a placard reading, “Stronger Alliance US and Korea” and “Release Innocent President Park Geun-hye” both in English and Korean. As he was forced out, he shouted, “It is not lawful.”
As a loyalist of ousted former President Park, Rep. Cho defected from the main opposition Liberty Korea Party in April, saying the party could no longer represent the “patriotic spirit of conservatives.”
|Pro-America rallygoers hold signs reading phrases such as "Welcome President Trump" and "Deter War," in front of the National Assembly, in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)|
|Anti-America rallygoers protest against US President Donald Trump giving a parliamentary speech, in front of National Assembly in Seuoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)|
The National Assembly was at its highest security level, with entry to the main buildings and Members’ Office Building strictly controlled. No cars could enter the area without permits.
For the Assembly buildings, some 8,000 security guards and police officers were positioned.
On the road 100 meters from the parliament, both pro- and anti-America rallygoers took to the streets outside the iron-fenced National Assembly. Rallies and demonstrations were banned within 100 meters of the National Assembly,
Some 600 protestors and 8,000 supporters gathered, according to police and rally organizers. They held signs reading starkly different messages, such as “No Trump, No War” and “Trump Welcome!”
As the rallies intensified, a group of protestors from the two sides clashed, exchanging insults and punches, but were soon stopped by police.
According to police, 18,860 officers were deployed around the National Assembly.
The last US leader to speak at the Assembly was Bill Clinton in 1994. He spoke for 22 minutes and received seven rounds of applause.
By Jo He-rim (firstname.lastname@example.org)