SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ In the latest of a series of rallies, 22,000 South Koreans holding candles gathered in downtown Seoul on New Year's Eve to protest the deaths of two teenage girls killed by a U.S. armored military vehicle.

``Punish the murderous American soldiers! Bring them to our court!'' those in the crowd cried out, marching curb-to-curb down a 10-lane boulevard. The evening street was illuminated with candle lights held in paper cups.

The crowd estimate was issued by police, but local media reports put the figure much higher.

Many of the protesters, bundled in scarves and overcoats, were out on the streets for New Year's celebrations.

One block away, the U.S. Embassy was surrounded by police buses and officers armed with helmets and plastic shields.

Hundreds of students confronted police 100 yards from the embassy, shouting ``Move back!'' No clash was reported.

Anti-U.S. sentiment has risen sharply in South Korea, a key U.S. ally, since the two U.S. soldiers whose vehicle killed the girls in June were cleared of negligent homicide charges in U.S. military courts last month.

The acquittals sparked large protests calling for retrials in a South Korean court. Some even urged the withdrawal of the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

South Korean political leaders, including President Kim Dae-jung, have appealed for an end to the protests, saying they could hurt Seoul's long-standing friendship with the United States.

Many South Koreans are demanding a revision of an accord with Washington to give their country more jurisdiction over U.S. soldiers here.

The Status of Forces Agreement allows the U.S. military to try soldiers accused of crimes while on duty. South Korean critics argue that this often results in lenient treatment for U.S. soldiers.

U.S. officials have ruled out an immediate revision of the 1966 accord, which has been amended twice.

The Korean girls were on their way to a friend's birthday party when they were run over and killed by a U.S. mine-clearing vehicle taking part in a training exercise.