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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Free Trade Deal Draws Thousands to Seoul's Streets

ReutersFarmers chanting and marching to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul on Sunday.
SEOUL, South Korea -- Thousands of South Koreans took to the streets Sunday to denounce a proposed free trade agreement between their country and the United States just days ahead of a deadline for negotiators to strike a deal.

South Korean and U.S. officials have until the end of this week to reach an agreement. Planned high-level negotiations in Seoul from Monday are aimed at closing gaps in automobiles, agriculture and other contentious issues that have defied resolution over almost 10 months of talks.

Protesters from labor, farm and student groups carrying flags and banners, some snaking through narrow streets and occasionally scuffling with riot police, gathered by late afternoon in front of the heavily guarded U.S. Embassy, blocking traffic on Seoul's main downtown street.

The protesters, also within sight of the building housing South Korea's Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry, listened to speeches and chanted slogans before dispersing peacefully after dark.

The National Police Agency estimated that about 7,000 people took to the streets of Seoul. A total of 15,000 riot police were deployed, YTN television reported.

South Korea and the United States have been trying since June to strike a deal that officials say would boost economic ties between two countries that already do more than $75 billion in trade.

The two governments need to wrap up an agreement by March 31 because of the approaching end of U.S. President George W. Bush's Trade Promotion Authority, which allows him to send trade agreements to Congress for straight yes or no votes without amendments.