S. Korea to take 'hard line against protest'

Thousands expected at Seoul rally today against issues such as govt's labour reforms

SEOUL • The South Korean authorities have warned they will take a hard line against a large-scale anti-government protest planned for central Seoul today.

Speaking on television, the country's justice minister, flanked by the labour minister and three vice-ministers of agriculture, education and administration, said any sign of violence or illegal gatherings would be firmly dealt with.

"The government hereby makes it clear that any illegal mass action or violence will be strongly dealt with," said Justice Minister Kim Hyun Woong.

The warning was issued after the ministers held talks with key officials at the Government Complex in Seoul yesterday.

The police warned protesters to remain in a designated area and not to clash with officers and said demonstrators were not permitted to march towards the presidential Blue House.

Organisers hope as many as 100,000 people will turn up for the "People's General Uprising" - a protest rally bringing together workers, farmers, teachers and social activists, among others.

The rally will focus on a series of issues, including the government's planned labour reforms, the opening of protected markets for some agricultural goods, and the imposition of state-issued history textbooks in schools.

State school teachers were warned yesterday that they would be punished if they took part in the rally in violation of clauses banning them from engaging in political activism.

"We will deal sternly with any activities that run counter to teachers' duties and obligations," said Vice-Education Minister Lee Young.

Korean Confederation Trade Unions (KCTU), a key labour union, has vowed to "stop freight trucks in their tracks" and "immobilise the country" if the government continues to push through its comprehensive reform package, Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF) reported.

The KCTU is forging a broad united front with farmers and the urban poor not only to oppose the labour market reform but to mount a challenge to President Park Geun Hye's broader pro-corporate, pro-free trade agenda, according to FPIF.

"I believe when workers from all regions gather in Seoul on Nov 14, we will regain our confidence, which will be critical as we prepare to strike," said Mr Han Sang Gyun, the newly elected KCTU president.

The planned march follows a protest involving thousands of workers earlier this year who gathered in the capital to fight proposed labour reforms at a May Day rally.

The protesters clashed with riot police who fired water cannon containing water laced with a chemical irritant, and erected barricades to block the demonstrators from marching towards the office of President Park.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2015, with the headline 'S. Korea to take 'hard line against protest''. Print Edition | Subscribe