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Anti-FTA protests continue in Seoul

The Hankyoreh, Seoul

Anti-FTA protests continue in Seoul

28 March 2007

Yonhap News, Seoul - Despite chilling rain, South Korean farmers, workers and activists continued their protests opposing a free trade deal with the United States, with a large-scale candlelight vigil scheduled for Wednesday evening.

The candlelight protest is likely to be held a few kilometers from a Seoul hotel, where top negotiators from the two countries met for the third day of the talks aimed at concluding a free trade agreement (FTA), organizers and police said.

The Korean Alliance Against the Korea-U.S. FTA, a protest group, has led a candlelight vigil every night since Monday, vowing to continue until the talks end. The group said their activities would peak on Wednesday, with over 10,000 people participating.

Protests took place throughout Seoul amid rain, police said, with 70 farmers trying to barge into the hotel where the negotiations were underway, only to be blocked by the police after minor scuffles.

A group of human rights activists held a news conference near the hotel, accusing the government of pushing for a free trade deal in a clandestine manner and relinquishing the livelihoods of many to the U.S, the organizers said.

About 200 filmmakers, actors and film students also gathered in central Seoul to voice their concerns that an FTA would lead to the termination of the screen quota system, used to promote screenings of South Korean movies in local theaters, the organizers said.

Under South Korea’s screen quota system, all domestic cinemas must screen domestic films for at least 73 days a year. The U.S. has sought to eliminate the system, contending it works against free trade by impeding the efforts of U.S. studios to increase their market share in South Korea.

Some of the film-minded demonstrators boarded the city subway to deliver notes emblazoned with anti-FTA slogans, and entreated commuters to join the candlelight protest scheduled for that evening, the protesters said.

On Sunday as well, thousands of South Korean farmers, workers and activists had taken to the streets to voice their opposition to the FTA. Organizers claimed more than 15,000 people took part, while the police put the number at around 7,500. No violence was reported.

A group of South Korean lawmakers, including some presidential hopefuls, remain on hunger strikes, arguing it is too early for the country to forge a free trade pact with the world’s largest economy.

Some anti-FTA rallies in the past have erupted into violence between protesters and riot police. Last November, massive anti-FTA demonstrations organized by the alliance left 63 people injured, including 35 police officers, according to a police tally.

South Korea remains split over the FTA issue. Farmers, laborers and activists argue it would threaten their livelihoods, while conservative groups and businesses have backed the government’s push for the free trade deal.

An FTA with the U.S. is subject to the approval of the National Assembly, where supporters outnumber opponents.