SEOUL, South Korea – South Korean lawmakers on Wednesday authorized the dispatch of non-combat troops to support the U.S.-led war on Iraq.
The decision by the National Assembly came hours after President Roh Moo-hyun said the deployment would strengthen the U.S.-South Korean alliance, thereby helping to peacefully resolve the nuclear standoff with North Korea.
The one-house National Assembly voted amid anti-war sentiment in South Korea and concerns that the United States might eventually attack North Korea.
Outside parliament, hundreds of anti-war activists waved "Stop the War" signs as they kicked, punched and hurled water bottles at riot police.
Police beat them back with plastic shields. At least two demonstrators were injured, blood streaming down their faces.
Roh has struggled to muster parliamentary support for the deployment of 600 South Korean military engineers and 100 medics in the Gulf, as the parliament wavered and delayed voting on the bill twice last week.
Speaking to parliament, Roh told lawmakers that the deployment of South Korean troops would strengthen Seoul's alliance with Washington.
"The fate of the country and the people depends on my decision," he said. "I came to the conclusion that helping the United States in difficult times and maintaining friendly U.S.-South Korean relations will help a lot in peacefully resolving the North Korean nuclear issue."
Washington has accused North Korea of developing nuclear weapons and the North has accused the United States of planning to invade. U.S. officials say they want a peaceful solution to the nuclear standoff, but have not ruled out a military option.
Roh said there would not be a war on the Korean Peninsula if South Koreans don't want it.
"The United States will not deal with the North's nuclear issue unilaterally," Roh said.
About 37,000 U.S. soldiers are stationed in South Korea.