Prosecution warns of crackdown on violent anti-FTA protests
SEOUL, Nov. 23 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s state prosecution said Thursday it will clamp down on farmers and activists who stage violent protests against a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States.
Tens of thousands of union workers and activists went on strike in 13 cities across the country on Wednesday, demanding laws to protect laborers and an end to the FTA talks. Some of the demonstrators clashed with police in the cities of Gwangju and Daejeon, set fire to property and broke the windows of a city office with sticks, according to witnesses.
The violence left 63 people injured, including 35 police officers, and caused 670 million won (US$720,250) in property damage nationwide, police said.
Apart from the labor rallies, 3,000 unionized teachers held a one-day strike Wednesday in Seoul to protest a government plan to introduce a new evaluation system for teachers.
"The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office has instructed all local offices to sternly punish those who organized or actively participated in yesterday’s rallies through a thorough investigation," the office said in a press release. "We will also deal sternly with a general strike by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and the illegal collective action by the unionized teachers," the official said.
Police also vowed to get tough with violent protesters. Lee Taek-soon, chief of the National Police Agency, directed local offices to consider banning the civic group that organized Wednesday’s anti-FTA rallies from staging any more demonstrations.
If the ban is imposed, serious clashes between police and demonstrators are expected since the civic group already announced plans for nationwide rallies next Wednesday and on Dec. 6.
The KCTU is scheduled to hold a four-hour partial strike starting from 1 p.m. Thursday and similar protest rallies in Seoul and other major cities later in the day.
Wednesday’s protests came before South Korea and the U.S. hold the fifth round of FTA talks on Dec. 4-9 in the U.S., with the aim of completing the negotiations by the end of this year.
However, the goal is seen as a daunting task given a wide range of thorny issues, particularly in the fields of rice, beef, pharmaceuticals, automobiles and goods made at an inter-Korean industrial park in North Korea. South Korean farmers and laborers strongly oppose the deal, arguing it would threaten their livelihoods.