A group of South Korean students broke into the residence of American ambassador Harry Harris on Friday, in a protest against Donald Trump’s campaign to get the Asian nation to pay more for U.S. military support.
Nineteen students, who described themselves as members of a liberal university students’ group, were detained by police after staging a protest against plans to impose a bigger financial burden for the stationing of U.S. troops in the country, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
The students used a ladder to climb the walls of the ambassador’s residence, next to an old South Korean palace, and urged Harris to leave the country.
The incident happened days before officials from the U.S. and South Korea are due to meet in Honolulu for the next round of talks on sharing defense costs.
After the incident, Seoul police dispatched 80 more officers to beef up security of the envoy’s home.
Protesters angry over American demands that South Korea pay more for defense destroyed portraits of the U.S. ambassador stuck on blocks of tofu outside the U.S. embassy on Friday after police warned them against staging a more aggressive demonstration.
U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris has become a political lightning rod for South Koreans angered by U.S. President Donald Trump's push to get South Korea to pay billions of dollars more toward maintaining the 28,500 American troops stationed there.
"Harris out! We are not a U.S. colony! We are not an ATM machine!" the demonstrators chanted outside the embassy, surrounded by phalanxes of police.
The left-leaning protesters from several youth groups cheered as two students smashed up blocks of tofu and acorn jelly adorned with paper portraits of Harris.
Longtime allies, the United States and South Korea are in dispute over how much each should pay for the U.S. troops in South Korea. Trump has demanded Seoul pay as much as $4 billion more a year, according to South Korean officials, and a new round of talks is scheduled in Seoul next week.
South Korea currently contributes about $900 million to the upkeep of U.S. troops in the country.
"How is it possible for a tenant to ask for five-fold increase in rent from its landlord?" Kwon Oh-min, a Youth Party representative, said outside the U.S. embassy on Friday.
South Korea has the third-largest presence of U.S. troops based overseas after Japan and German. Major bases include the U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, which covers 14.7 million square meters.
As relations between the US and South Korea fray, the American ambassador to the country has brushed off criticism of an increasingly hairy matter: his moustache.
Harry Harris, a retired navy admiral, has ruffled feathers in South Korea since becoming US ambassador in 2018.
But recently, it's his facial hair that has left South Koreans bristling.
To some South Koreans, it evokes memories of Japanese colonial rule over the country from 1910 until 1945.
Those who feel affronted say his facial hair is reminiscent of the moustaches worn by Japan's governor-generals in that era.
Mr Harris, the son of a US Navy officer and a Japanese mother, has previously raised tensions by demanding that South Korea pay more for hosting US troops.
But speaking to reporters on Thursday, he suggested the criticism stemmed from his heritage.
"My moustache, for some reason, has become a point of some fascination here," Mr Harris said. "I have been criticised in the media here, especially in social media, because of my ethnic background, because I am a Japanese-American."