Korea Times | 29 November 2006
Anti-FTA Protestors, Police Clash
By Kim Tong-hyung
Tens of thousands of anti-globalization demonstrators confronted police in Seoul and other cities, protesting a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) between Korea and the United States. It caused severe disruption in downtown traffic, angering citizens.
However, clashes were sporadic and none of them escalated to the violence of the anti-FTA rallies last week, which resulted in dozens of injuries and severe property damage.
The police, who arrested more than 40 people after last week’s rally, had outlawed the anti-globalization rallies Wednesday, organized by farmers and labor unionists, and promised swift punishment for those causing destructive action.
The rallies, organized by the ``Korean Alliance Against the Korea-U.S. FTA,’’ representing about 300 labor unions and civic groups, and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), were held in eight cities, including Seoul, Pusan, Taegu, Kwangju, Inchon and Cheju.
The police deployed more than 50,000 men to the rally sites nationwide. This includes some 10,000 police officers in Seoul who used buses to barricade city hall and its adjacent grass square to prevent the crowd from gathering.
However, the airtight blockade did not discourage hundreds of angry, head-banded demonstrators from clogging some streets of downtown Seoul, as they confronted shield-wielding policemen. Police detained nine farmers who refused an order to leave the City Hall Plaza.
About 400 farmers marched down the streets of Ulchiro and Myong-dong, downtown Seoul, after the police blocked them from holding their planned rally in front of Seoul Station.
Unionists from the KCTU, one of the country’s two flagship labor unions, also held a rally in Taehangno, which turned out about 250 people. Another 150 unionists held a separate rally in Okin-dong, downtown Seoul.
About 10,000 organized farmers had been planning to gather in Seoul for the anti-FTA rallies. However, with police blocking the major tollgates on highways, not many of them succeeded in reaching the nation’s capital.
The Korean anti-FTA alliance had expected 120,000 people to participate in yesterday’s rallies nationwide. The police believe the turnout was much less.
It was a quieter situation in Kwangju, where the demonstrations were most extreme last week, with several hundred farmers and unionists holding peaceful marches calling on the government to withdraw from talks with the U.S. over the free trade accord.
In the demonstrations held last Wednesday, demonstrators in Kwangju wielded rocks, steel pipes, and flaming cans as they attempted to enter the city hall building. Riot police put up barricades and fought back with riot cannons, forcing the protestors to disperse, with the clash leaving more than 60 injured.