Anti-govt protesters to hold second rally in Seoul

Organisers promise a peaceful event; police investigating 400 people over previous rally

Thousands of labour, farming and civic group members are expected to take to the streets today in a second anti-government rally in central Seoul, setting the stage for another possible stand-off between the police and demonstrators.

An earlier rally last month that drew more than 64,000 people resulted in violent clashes, leaving a 68-year-old farmer critically injured.

About 400 people are being investigated for participating in the rally and police now want to arrest its organiser, Mr Han Sang Gyun, chairman of the powerful Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. He has sought refuge in Seoul's Jogye Temple.

Dissatisfaction with the Park Geun Hye administration has been mounting, with people opposing planned labour reforms and the state history textbook policy, among other issues.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn and prosecutor-general Kim Soo Nam have both vowed stern action against violent protesters after the police on Monday imposed a ban on the holding of a second rally, citing concerns of public safety.

SOFTER TOUCH NEEDED

The President should open her mind and start communicating with the people, instead of always getting angry at the people and her Cabinet. She should shake off her bad image.

EMERITUS PROFESSOR IM KAYE SOON, from Hanyang University, on what President Park should do to win over critics

Undeterred, the organisers turned to the Seoul Administrative Court, which annulled the police ban on Thursday. The court said that it was "unreasonable to presume that the second rally will also be violent" and that the organisers have repeatedly promised a peaceful gathering.

The police said in response that they will respect the court ruling but will take strong action against violence and any attempt by protesters to march towards the presidential residence, the Blue House.

Rally participants are expected to gather at Seoul Plaza at noon and march towards Seoul National University Hospital, where the injured farmer is warded. He suffered brain damage.

Critics of President Park have denounced her as the "dictator's daughter", alleging that the government's heavy-handed approach reeks of the strong-armed military rule of the 1960s and 1970s when her father Park Chung Hee was leader.

The move to introduce the state-published history textbook, for instance, has been criticised as an attempt to rewrite the country's past, glorifying Park Chung Hee as the architect of modern South Korea while underplaying his repressive ways.

Labour reforms that will allow companies to easily dismiss underperforming workers and cut wages of senior staff approaching retirement have also lambasted for protecting business conglomerates at the expense of the workforce.

Ms Park's approval rating rebounded to 44 per cent last week but at least one observer said that she needed to do more to win over some of her critics.

Emeritus Professor Im Kaye Soon from Hanyang University said: "The President should open her mind and start communicating with the people, instead of always getting angry at the people and her Cabinet. She should shake off her bad image."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2015, with the headline 'Anti-govt protesters to hold second rally in Seoul'. Print Edition | Subscribe