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Students, police clash violently over S. Korea labor law

Latest developments: January 19, 1997
Web posted at: 11:40 a.m. EST (1640 GMT)

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- Hours after a union leader called for an end to protest violence, hundreds of militant students clashed with South Korean police Sunday in one of the most heated displays of protest against a new labor law.


About 1,500 students hurled some 200 firebombs at riot police. Some burned effigies of South Korean President Kim Young Sam and U.S. President Bill Clinton. Others yielded steel pipes and attempted to hit police.

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"Down with Kim Young Sam!" they chanted as the effigies burned. The street in front of Hanyang University was awash in a fiery reddish-orange glow.

Police, escorted by armored vehicles, responded by firing volley after volley of tear gas. At least four students were arrested, and witnesses reported numerous injuries -- many the result from police beatings.

The Clinton effigies were an apparent sign of anti-American sentiment common among militant students, who accuse Washington of condoning South Korea's political oppression.

Meanwhile, strikers in the southern city of Ulsan, where Hyundai has automobile plants, were cleaning the grounds and preparing assembly lines for a return to work Monday.

Union leader appeals for calm

The clashes erupted despite a call earlier in the day by Kwon Young-gil, fugitive head of the Confederation of Trade Unions, to avoid fighting with police.

"Violence needs to be restrained," Kwon said at his hiding place in Myongdong Cathedral, where he has taken refuge with six other fugitive union leaders.


Nationwide strikes, and in some cases heated clashes with police, have carried on since December 26, when lawmakers secretly rammed the disputed labor law through Parliament. Union leaders say the law makes it easier for employees to fire workers and extend working hours.

Faced with waning support and pressure to compromise, Kwon on Saturday announced a temporary halt to the strikes beginning Monday. The daily strikes have been abandoned for one-day walkouts every Wednesday until February 18. On that day, strikes will resume if the law is not repealed, Kwon said.

International delegation arrives

Also Sunday, the first member of a team of 10 world labor leaders arrived for an attempt to pressure the government into scrapping the most inflammatory sections of the disputed law.

Vic Thorpe, head of the International Chemical Workers' Federation, said the team would meet strike leaders at Myongdong cathedral and follow up efforts of four union colleagues who left last week after deportation threats.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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