The beheading of a South Korean hostage by an Iraqi armed group has sparked anti-war protests by thousands in Seoul, as the government steers a fine line between anti-U.S. sentiment and strategic concerns closer to home, RFA reports.

President Roh Moo-hyun ordered a full investigation Thursday into the kidnapping and beheading of 33-year-old Kim Sun-il by militants in Iraq after it emerged the man was abducted three weeks before Seoul said it found out.

"President Roh has asked his top advisers for an extensive review into the circumstances surrounding the kidnapping and killing and to work to prevent similar incidents," a presidential spokesman told reporters.

Militants killed Kim after Seoul rejected their demands to pull 670 South Korean medics and engineers out of Iraq and drop plans to send a further 3,000 troops there.

The gruesome killing has shocked South Koreans, triggering a rally of about 3,000 near the U.S. embassy in Seoul late on Wednesday against the dispatch of South Korean troops to Iraq.

U.S. President George W. Bush sent a personal letter of condolence Thursday to President Roh Moo-hyun to express his condolences over Kim's death. In the letter, Bush, on behalf of all of American citizens, sent condolences to the victim's bereaved family and all Korean people.

Bush also thanked South Koreans for the courage they have shown in the war against terrorism.

Meanwhile, the South Korean government scrambled to block Internet access to the gruesome video of Kim's beheading, in an attempt to calm passions following his death.

South Korea's Ministry of Information and Communication has introduced a 24-hour emergency monitoring system to try to shut any Web site that uploads video footage of Kim's execution. Officials said they felt the measures were necessary while the nation was in mourning.

A major Singapore newspaper also vowed to print no more hostage pictures released by Islamic militants in the Middle East, in order to deny terrorists a propaganda platform. "Every time the media prints or transmits images of these terrible acts, we are playing right into the hands of the terrorists," the English-language Today tabloid said in a front-page editorial titled "Enough is Enough".

Malaysia, which has strongly criticized the U.S. war in Iraq, also condemned the killing of Kim. "Islam places a lot of emphasis on justice," foreign minister Syed Hamid Albar was quoted by Malaysia's Bernama news agency as saying. The killings of hostages "do not help our cause in seeking justice."

World leaders praised President Roh Moo-Hyun for moral fortitude in refusing to concede to the militants' demand to scrap plans for the larger deployment. But Roh has carefully framed the deployment as a way of promoting the achievement of an unrelated goal. #####


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