Seoul gripped by large-scale anti-gov­ern­ment rally

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

SEOUL: Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple took to the streets of cen­tral Seoul yes­ter­day in a mas­sive protest against the con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment’s drive for la­bor re­form and state-is­sued history text­books. Po­lice sprayed wa­ter on the crowd, es­ti­mated to num­ber about 50,000, as some pro­test­ers at­tempted to push through bar­ri­cades at the rally out­side City Hall in cen­tral Seoul. Ahead of the rally, labour union­ists scuf­fled with scores of plain­clothes po­lice­men to pre­vent the ar­rest of the head of the mil­i­tant Korean Con­fed­er­a­tion of Trade Unions (KCTU), who showed up for a press con­fer­ence near the protest site.

La­bor activists suc­cess­fully blocked po­lice from ar­rest­ing KCTU Pres­i­dent Han Sang-Kyun, who has been sought for lead­ing out­lawed la­bor strikes last year and May Day protests this year. “Down with (Pres­i­dent) Park Geun-Hye”, the union­ists chanted fol­low­ing the scuf­fles, call­ing her con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment “fas­cist”, an AFP jour­nal­ist on the scene said. Au­thor­i­ties said they had mo­bi­lized 20,000 riot po­lice for fear that the protest might turn vi­o­lent.

Or­ga­niz­ers of the protest said there would be a march to­ward the pres­i­den­tial Blue House, a move which is likely to spark a clash with po­lice. Par­tic­i­pants, many of whom were bused in from across the coun­try, chanted slogans de­mand­ing the with­drawal of a gov­ern­ment la­bor pol­icy which KCTU says ben­e­fits busi­nesses by keep­ing wages low and making it eas­ier for com­pa­nies to fire activists. They also con­demned the open­ing of pro­tected mar­kets for some agri­cul­tural goods and a plan to im­pose gov­ern­men­tis­sued text­books on schools start­ing in 2017.

The text­books have be­come a bit­ter ide­o­log­i­cal bat­tle­ground be­tween left and right in South Korea, with crit­ics ac­cus­ing Park’s ad­min­is­tra­tion of seek­ing to de­lib­er­ately ma­nip­u­late and dis­tort the nar­ra­tive of how the South Korean state was cre­ated. Con­ser­va­tive crit­ics ar­gue that cur­rently the au­thors are too left-wing, but lib­eral op­po­nents ac­cuse the gov­ern­ment of re­vert­ing to a pol­icy used by past au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes in South Korea in­clud­ing that of late pres­i­dent Park Chung-Hee, fa­ther of the cur­rent pres­i­dent. Yes­ter­day’s rally was the largest South Korea has seen since 2008 when the coun­try was hit by waves of protest against the im­port of US beef. — AFP

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