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   June 28, 2000 | 1845 IST


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Korea's Red Devils to stick to soccer

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The leader of South Korea's soccer fan club has warned politicians not to jump on the "Red Devils" bandwagon.

"The Red Devils want to be a restaurant serving a single dish: soccer," said supporter group chief Shin In-cheol, a 34 year-old estate agent who mustered millions to cheer South Korea during their march to the semi-finals of the World Cup.

"We are neutral in politics since we met on the soccer pitch," he told Reuters in an interview on the eve of South Korea's last match, a play-off against Turkey for third place in Taegu on Saturday.

In an election year in which scandals and gridlock have alienated voters, South Korean politicians seem to be salivating at the sight of delirious but peaceful street parties of millions of young people cheering the underdog national side as it defeated Portugal, Italy and Spain.

South Korea holds an election in December to choose a successor to President Kim Dae-jung, who is barred by the constitution from running for a second term.

The governing Millennium Democratic Party has unveiled a "Great Takeoff Programme" to follow the World Cup with economic and political reforms.

Its main opponent the Grand National Party is offering a similarly inspired "Upgrade Korea" campaign.

A founding member and the fourth president of the Red Devils supporters group, Shin said his red-shirted legions will stick to soccer after the month-long World Cup finishes in Yokohama, Japan on Sunday.

He said the Red Devils would abstain even from supporting Chung Mong-joon, co-chairman of the South Korean World Cup organisers and president of the support club's sponsor, the Korean Football Association if he enters politics.

Many South Koreans speculate that Chung, a 50-year-old veteran member of parliament, will enter the race for the presidency.

"We really appreciate Mr Chung's effort for Korea's soccer and the Red Devils. But we consider him only as a head of the football association," Shin said.

"I'm afraid if the Red Devils support Chung or any other politician, it will ruin this group's image and meaning. Our members will not agree with it," he said, adding that the group bars politicians from becoming official members.

After the Red Devils complete their final mission of the World Cup, cheering their team against Turkey on Saturday, Shin said the group hopes to establish an amateur soccer league and soccer library.

The group will return to its roots as an Internet-based community and continue the street cheering that at its peak during the semi-final against Germany drew seven million people -- one in every seven South Koreans.

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