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Farmers Clash With Police During Anti-FTA Rallies

By Na Jeong-ju, Korea Times, 19 November 2003

Farmers protesting a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Chile clashed with riot police on Wednesday in Yoido, Seoul, and several other locations around the capital, burning and destroying police buses used as barricades.

Firebombs were not used in the rallies, but rocks and glass bottles were hurled and clubs were brandished, while the police side used water cannon to contain the violence.

Seoul’s downtown traffic was brought to a standstill for hours as over 70,000 farmers, students and unionized workers from around the country joined forces to stage massive rallies, demanding the government reconsider an FTA deal with Chile.

Police said they hauled about 40 men away from the scenes for leading the violence and attacking police. No major injuries were reported.

About 16,000 police were on hand as the protesters in Taehangno, Chongno and in front of Seoul Station attempted to march toward Kwanghwamun, downtown Seoul.

Tension has been growing amid fears of a repeat of the violent clashes seen during a recent labor union protest, in which scores of Molotov cocktails were thrown at the police, injuring several demonstrators and officers.

In Yoido, tens of thousands of farmers held a massive rally, slamming the government and the Assembly for trying to ratify the Korea-Chile FTA, which was already signed by the two governments.

Participants claimed the FTA will be a major setback to the nation’s agricultural industry, which is vulnerable to cheap farming products because the government preserves relatively high consumer prices in locally produced rice, barley and other crops.

The free trade accord will eventually destroy our farming industry, said Park Hung-shik, secretary general of the National Farmers’ Association.

We will block the passage of the FTA with Chile at all costs and never forget the names of the lawmakers voting for the agreement.

The rallies come as the Assembly is reviewing the government decision to decide whether to ratify the FTA deal during the current session. Most lawmakers see the passage as inevitable.

The government earlier said it will hold talks with Japan, Singapore and several other Asian countries to review the feasibility of FTA deals with those nations, prompting the violent reaction from farming groups.

Last week, President Roh Moo-hyun tried to appease the growing anger from farmer groups, promising to set aside 119 trillion won ($101.3 billion) over the next 10 years to support the agricultural sector.