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Gov’t urges anti-FTA protestors to stay home

Chosun Ilbo, 19 May 2006

Gov’t Urges Anti-FTA Protestors to Stay Home

The government on Friday urged a group of some 100 Koreans to refrain from staging a protest in Washington against the first round of negotiations for a free trade agreement with the U.S., to be held there on June 5-9.

A spokesman with a coalition of activist groups earlier said it will send a group of protestors to the U.S. to thwart the negotiations. “We already finished the preliminary work for our rally there”, the spokesman said. The coalition includes the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Coalition of Farmers’ Associations. “We are in discussions with the Democratic Labor Party to decide whether lawmakers in the party will join the protests,” he said.

The original plan was to dispatch a twice the number, but the coalition reportedly ran into visa problems. Among the group’s plans is a protest on the Potomac River in Washington D.C.

Washington D.C. police are preparing to deal strictly with any illegal protests in cooperation with the Korean Embassy in the U.S. and Interpol. U.S. police have set out stringent guidelines after seeing the violent demonstrations by Korean protestors against the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Hong Kong last year, according to officials in Seoul. Police there are analyzing video clips of the demonstrations and will treat protestors as terror suspects under the U.S.’ sweeping anti-terror laws if they are found in possession of dangerous items, National Intelligence Service officials here said.

Friday’s government plea was issued by five ministers including Finance Minister Han Duk-soo and Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon. “Everyone has the right to speak their mind freely, but staging a rally in the U.S. does not help solve the problem,” the statement said. “Such protests by a handful of organizations could prove a stumbling block to a visa waiver for Koreans in the U.S. and thus inconvenience the entire people.”

The statement warned Seoul will have very limited scope to intervene if protestors violate U.S. law.

 source: Chosun Ilbo