SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ The wives and mothers of South Korean fishermen believed to have been abducted by the North decades ago demanded their return in a protest Friday.

About 20 elderly women wailed and held up photographs of their missing family members. One sign read: ``Come back home.'' They scuffled with riot police who stopped them from marching through downtown Seoul to President Kim Dae-jung's office, and shouted slogans against North Korea's leader.

``Die, Kim Jong Il!'' yelled the protesters, referring to the leader of the totalitarian North, who enjoys a personality cult among his 22 million people.

Such open criticism of the North has been muted in the South since the two sides embarked on a process of reconciliation this year. Seoul is uneasy about such criticism, fearing it could jeopardize the fragile peace on the Korean peninsula.

The women believe their loved ones were seized by the communist North in the 1970s and 1980s, from their fishing boats. They urged the South Korean government to demand their return in inter-Korean talks.

Since a June summit between Korea's two leaders, the South and the North have held two reunions involving the families of 400 people separated during the 1950-53 Korean War.

During three-day reunions that ended Dec. 2, a South Korean mother visited North Korea and met a son whose fishing boat strayed into communist waters in 1987.

Although the son, Kang Hee-keun, said he was voluntarily living in the North, critics in the South speculated that the North engineered his response for the purposes of political propaganda.

``We demand that our family members be returned immediately, not reunited briefly,'' said Ok Chol-soon, 69, who believes her husband, Park Doo-nam, was abducted by the North in 1972 while fishing in the Yellow Sea.

South Korea repatriated 63 former spies and guerrillas to North Korea in September, but no South Koreans have been returned so far.

``We sent North Koreans back. Why can't we get our people back. What is the government doing?'' said Lee Kan-shim, 65. Her son, Chung An-sang, was abducted by the North in 1972 at the age of 19, she said.

Seoul says 487 South Koreans, mostly fishermen, have been abducted by North Korea since U.S. and Soviet forces divided the peninsula in 1945.

Also, 300 South Korean soldiers captured by the North Korean army during the 1950-53 Korean War are believed to be living in the North. North Korea denies the allegations.

The Korean War ended without a peace treaty, and the border between the two countries has been sealed and heavily fortified ever since. There is no regular means of cross-border travel or communication for Korean citizens.