South Korea braces for second anti-government protest in Seoul

Riot policemen using pepper spray to disperse protesters at an anti-government rally in Seoul on Nov 14.
Riot policemen using pepper spray to disperse protesters at an anti-government rally in Seoul on Nov 14. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korean police are bracing for a fresh anti-government protest in Seoul on Saturday (Dec 5), with critics accusing President Park Geun Hye of increasingly resembling her authoritarian late father's heavy-handed rule.

Some 18,000 police backed by water cannon will be deployed to keep order when an expected 50,000 protesters take part in the rally outside the City Hall.

Police had initially banned the rally but organisers appealed to the Seoul Administrative Court, which overturned the order, paving the way for a second massive protest in the capital in the space of a month.

The first rally on Nov 14 drew around 60,000 people and saw numerous clashes between protestors and police using water cannon.

A 69-year-old farmer fell into a coma after being knocked to the ground by a water cannon during a clash outside the Jongro District Office.

Saturday's rally is likely to entail an hour-long march from the City Hall to Seoul National University Hospital where the farmer, Mr Baek Nam Ki, has been hospitalised.

Organisers vowed to mount a peaceful demonstration this time and some 300 religious figures including Buddhists, catholics and protestants, who will each carry a flower in their hand, plan to set up a human wall to separate protesters from police.

While presiding over a government Cabinet meeting on Nov 24, Ms Park described the earlier demonstration as an attempt "to negate the rule of law and incapacitate the government", calling for a crackdown on those who incite "illegal, violent protests".

She also called for a ban on the wearing of masks by protesters, saying it was the sort of practice adopted by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, sparking angry reactions from opponents.

Her prime minister, justice minister as well as prosecutor general all scrambled to issue warnings against violent anti-government protests.

Prosecutor General Kim Soo Nam said on Tuesday that law enforcement agencies would use all efforts to "uproot forces seeking to topple" the government.

Ms Park's administration is facing mounting resentment over a range of issues including her plan to impose new history textbooks on schools, to further open the agricultural market and reform the labour market, making the dismissal of workers easier and cutting wages for older workers.

Critics say Ms Park, despite an election promise to reach out to opponents for national unity, is increasingly reliant on strong-arm tactics used by her late father Park Chung Hee, a general turned authoritarian leader who ruled the country for 18 years until he was assassinated in 1979.

Saturday's rally is to be jointly organised by groups including the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the federation of farmers' associations known as Jeonnong, the national teachers union and the association of urban poor.