Violent labor protests rock Seoul
No end in sight to nationwide strikes
January 11, 1997
Web posted at: 11:10 a.m. EST (1610 GMT)
SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- An eight-lane road in downtown
Seoul turned into a battle zone Saturday as striking South
Korean workers fought police following a massive rally
protesting a new labor law. There also were bloody clashes in
four other cities.
"What has started out as what appeared to be a simple labor
protest has blown up into a complex issue with political
repercussions," the all-news Yonhap TV quoted an unidentified
high-ranking government official as saying.
Many onlookers cheered on the protesters, which critics say
is a sign of spreading anti-government sentiment.
In the southeastern city of Ulsan, 10,000 strikers rallied but no violence was reported. Protests were also reported in Kwangju, Taegu and Bupyong.
Tear gas inflames crowd
Fighting erupted in the capital when police used tear gas,
some of it aimed from armored vehicles, to disperse an
estimated 20,000 workers and supporters who were leaving the
rally and pouring into the streets.
Thousands of protesters fought back, hurling rocks and other
projectiles. As volley after volley of tear gas was fired
into the crowd, demonstrators shouted: "Crush (President) Kim
Witnesses reported injuries, but there was no official report
on the number of wounded. And as nightfall approached, thick
smoke -- from tear gas and dozens of bonfires lit by
protesters -- blanketed the chaotic scene.
It was the most violent clash among striking workers and the
government since December 26, when the disputed labor law was
clandestinely rammed through Parliament by ruling party
Labor leaders have demanded the repeal of the law, which they
say makes it easier for companies to fire workers and extend
working hours. Among the demonstrators Saturday were a number
of white-collar workers, a rarity at strikes in recent years.
Labor leaders avoid arrest
With the protests in their 18th day, both the government and
unions have refused to budge. Police have an order to arrest
fugitive labor leaders, while unions vowed to expand the
Overnight, police tried but failed to arrest seven union
leaders holed up at a cathedral in the heart of Seoul.
A short scuffle erupted at Myongdong Cathedral as 20 police
tried to push their way through a human barricade of 100
strikers armed with metal pipes, but no one was injured.
Among those police hoped to arrest was Kwon Young-gil, the
head of South Korea's largest union -- the Confederation of
Korean Trade Unions.
"Unless the new law is repealed, we will not be part of the
government's propaganda," Kwon said.
The Confederation of Korean Trade Unions has called on
all workers to join the biggest strike in the nation's
history for two days starting next Tuesday.
International concern grows
The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development, or OECD, which South Korea joined in December,
expressed "concern." Amnesty International criticized the
labor law and asked the government not to arrest the labor
"South Korea was admitted as a member of the OECD after it
promised to bring its labor legislation into line with
international labor standards," the London-based Amnesty
International said in a statement.
"It is clearly failing in its obligation to carry out these
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