The Korea Herald | 2006.05.23
Groups vow no violence’ in U.S. capital
By Cho Chung-un
A group of activists will go ahead with their planned rallies in Washington to protest negotiations for a free trade agreement, ignoring the government’s appeal for restraint.
"(We will) embark on the protest expedition as scheduled. Activists will leave the country as soon as they receive entry permits (from the U.S government)," said a coalition of labor and farmers’ organizations at a news conference yesterday.
The group offered assurances that their demonstrations will be conducted peacefully and lawfully, brushing aside the Korean government’s concern about possible violence.
About 70 activists will be dispatched to hold the demonstrations ahead of the first round of formal negotiations between the two governments on June 5, the group said.
The group includes the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Coalition of Farmers’ Associations which played leading roles in organizing a series of violent protests in Hong Kong late last year.
The government issued a statement Friday calling on the civic groups to scrap their plans, saying it could damage the nation’s image abroad and cause diplomatic problems if they are arrested in the United States.
Finance Minister Han Duck-soo and four other ministers said in a statement that the planned rallies in Washington may also have a negative impact on the government’s efforts to negotiate the visa waiver program with the United States.
Washington has recently expressed its own concerns about the protest to the Korean government.
However, when asked if known members of the civic groups may have their visa applications refused, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul declined to comment.
"We do not comment publicly on individual visa cases," an official told The Korea Herald.
The Seoul government is worried that the protest may turn violent as did the Korean farmers’ protests in Hong Kong last year. In December, over 1,000 Korean protesters were briefly detained for staging violent rallies in Hong Kong during the meeting of the World Trade Organization.
U.S. police are prepared to deal harshly with any illegal actions by Korean activists, according to an official from the National Intelligence Agency last week.
The official said it may lead to mass prosecutions of the protesters, if they engage in any illegal activities during the planned demonstrations.
But the group pledged yesterday that it will stage peaceful and public-friendly rallies.
"We have submitted applications to the U.S authorities requesting permits to hold rallies in the city with the assistance of civic groups and lawyers there," said the group.
The group plans to stage a candlelit demonstration in front of the White House on June 4th and stage a larger protest the next day when the two governments begin their FTA talks. About 70 American anti-war and anti-globalization groups will support the protests, the organizers said.
They criticized the assumption by the Korean government that the protesters would become involved in illegal activity while staging rallies in Washington.