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Strikers protest police breaking up demos

By Kim Kyung-ho (khkim@heraldm.com), The Korea Herald, 1 July 2003

Members of the nation’s two major labor umbrella groups staged massive rallies in Seoul yesterday to protest the government’s use of police force to break up sit-ins by striking railway workers.

The protests in downtown areas of the capital city, combined with reduced services of metropolitan commuter trains, caused severe traffic congestion throughout the afternoon and into the evening rush hour.

The Federation of Korean Trade Unions, the largest umbrella group in the nation, mobilized approximately 20,000 members with more than 1,100 vehicles to stage a show of force denouncing the forced breakup of the sit-ins and to push for their demands.

The FKTU members and vehicles, including 1,000 taxis, presented a formidable caravan along Jongno street while blocking traffic in the area.

Their demands included a cut in regular working hours, the abolition of a plan to set up special economic zones and scrapping the planned sale of the state-owned Chohung Bank to a private lender.

About 3,000 members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the more militant labor organization, also held a rally in Yeouido near the National Assembly to protest police actions to disperse the striking railway workers across the country Saturday.

KCTU officials denounced the state’s reliance on force, the first time the government of President Roh Moo-hyun has employed such tactics since its inauguration in February, as a sign of regressing to the labor policy of past military authoritarian governments.

About 5,000 riot police were deployed around the rally sites to keep the protesters from going beyond the cordon lines.

The FKTU is planning to launch a massive strike tomorrow at over 100 workplace, which union leaders expect to draw more than 100,000 workers.

Truck drivers across the country, whose walkout paralyzed the nationwide delivery system in May, are also preparing to hold rallies this week to push through with their demands.