South Korea vows zero tolerance ahead of fresh anti-govt rally

A protester drenched by a police water cannon at a rally in Seoul on Nov 14.
A protester drenched by a police water cannon at a rally in Seoul on Nov 14. PHOTO: EPA

SEOUL AFP) - South Korea's Justice Minister issued a fresh warning on Friday (Nov 27) of zero tolerance towards violence during street protests, ahead of a planned anti-government demonstration in Seoul next week.

In a nationally televised address, Kim Hyun Woong said the government was determined to "eradicate" any public disorder and stressed that violators would "pay the price."

Kim had issued a similar warning before a huge anti-government rally in Seoul on Nov 14 that drew around 60,000 people and saw numerous clashes between protestors and police who used pepper spray and water cannon to maintain order.

Activists have called for a similar demonstration on Dec 5.

The focus of the protests is quite wide, incorporating opposition to labour reforms, the opening of the agricultural sector and plans to impose government-issued history textbooks on schools.

President Park Geun Hye condemned the Nov 14 protest as an effort to "deny the rule of law" and urged strong measures against those identified as inciting violence.

Park also said the wearing of masks by protestors should be prohibited, saying it was the sort of practise adopted by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

Her ruling conservative Saenuri Party on Wednesday (Nov 25) tabled a bill in parliament to ban such masks.

The Nov 14 protest was led by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and the federation of farmers' associations, known as Junnong.

KCTU President Han Sang-Kyun, who police accuse of inciting violence during the rally, has been taking refuge inside a major Buddhist temple in Seoul for the past two weeks.

The justice minister urged Han to surrender, warning that anyone who helped him escape police would be arrested.