Violent clashes in Seoul over Iraq, Wednesday 29 October 2003, 5:06 AM EST (1006 GMT)

SEOUL, South Korea (Reuters)—About 1,000 South Korean workers clashed with riot police on Wednesday following a protest rally against a government decision to send additional troops to Iraq.

Protesters marched in central Seoul after a one-hour rally organized by the country’s most militant union group, the Korea Federation of Trade Unions, and waded through the police blockade wielding wooden sticks and throwing stones, witnesses said.

Several people were severely injured after being hit by stones lobbed back by the riot police, they said.

There have been several similar rallies after South Korea agreed to commit additional troops to Iraq but it has yet to decide whether to send combat personnel, as Washington has urged.

South Korea already has 700 medical and engineering personnel in Iraq.

President Roh Moo-hyun faces a tough political decision over the troops, having to weigh strong public opposition to the war against Seoul’s desire to shore up its military alliance with Washington in the face of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Roh has expressed concern about the impact of troop deployment. He invited 1,500 military officials to the presidential Blue House on Wednesday in recognition of their performance overseas.

I am deeply concerned about the deployment of troops, given the situation in Iraq, Roh said.

It’s very difficult to make a decision, even though I should do it in a way to help the Iraqi people and to boost the alliance between Seoul and Washington.

South Korea plans to send another survey team to Iraq later this month and focus on reviewing non-military sectors such as infrastructure, medical facilities and public sentiment over the reconstruction of post-war Iraq.