Thousands march in South Korean anti-government protest

Published: Saturday 14th November 2015 by The News Editor

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Tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators are marching in Seoul in what police believe is the largest protest in the South Korean capital in nearly a decade.

About 80,000 people are believed to be attending the city centre rallies, according to an official at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency.

The marches, organised by an umbrella labour union and civic groups, brought together protesters with a diverse set of grievances against the government of conservative president Park Geun-hye, including her business-friendly labour policies and a decision to require middle and high schools to use only state-issued history textbooks in classes from 2017.

Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions briefly clashed with police who unsuccessfully tried to detain KCTU union president Han Sang-goon during a news conference, but there were no immediate reports of injuries.

A Seoul court had issued an arrest warrant for Han over a failed court appearance, after he was indicted for his involvement in organising a May protest that turned violent.

Demonstrators, many of them wearing masks and carrying banners, occupied a major street and began marching between tight perimeters created by police buses, intended to block them from entering major roads leading to the presidential Blue House. A large number of police, many wearing helmets and body armour, moved swiftly to outflank the demonstrators.

This was probably the largest crowd seen in a demonstration in Seoul since 2008, when people poured on to the streets to protest against the government’s decision to resume US beef imports amid lingering mad cow fears, said the Seoul police official.

Unions have been denouncing government attempts to change labour laws to allow larger freedom for companies in laying off workers, which policy-makers say would be critical in improving a bleak job market for young people.

Critics say the state-issued history textbooks, which have not been written yet, would be politically driven and might attempt to whitewash the brutal dictatorships that preceded South Korea’s bloody transition toward democracy in the 1980s.

Ms Park is the daughter of assassinated military dictator Park Chung-hee, who ruled the country in the 1960s and 70s, and whose legacy as a successful economic strategist is marred by a record of severe oppression.

South Korean police in May detained more than 40 people when protests over the government’s labour policies and the handling of a year-old ferry disaster spiralled into violence, leaving several demonstrators and police injured.

Published: Saturday 14th November 2015 by The News Editor

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