Tens of thousands anti-government protesters march through South Korea's capital

About 70,000 people marched through Seoul to South Korean capital's City Hall Saturday to protest a wide range of grievances against conservative President Park Geun-hye and her government. 

Ahn Young-joon/AP
South Korean riot police officers spray a water cannon as police officers try to break up protesters who try to march to the Presidential House after a rally against government policy in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. Police fired tear gas and water cannons Saturday as they clashed with anti-government demonstrators who marched through Seoul in what was believed to be the largest protest in South Korea's capital in more than seven years.

Police fired tear gas and water cannons Saturday as they clashed with anti-government demonstrators who marched through Seoul in the largest protest in South Korea's capital in more than seven years, leaving a protester critically injured.

About 70,000 people marched from various locations in Seoul to an area near City Hall, according to police. The demonstration stretched into the night, and police detained at least a dozen people. It was not clear how many people were injured.

The marches, organized by labor, civic and farmers' groups, brought together protesters with a diverse set of grievances against the government of conservative President Park Geun-hye, including her business-friendly labor policies and a decision to require middle and high schools to use only state-issued history textbooks starting in 2017.

Baek Nam-gi, a 69-year-old farmer, remained unconscious at a hospital after he fell down and hit the back of his head as police doused him with water cannons near City Hall, said Cho Byung-ok, secretary general of the Korea Peasants League, an activist group that represents farmers.

Television footage showed Baek lying motionless as other demonstrators struggled to drag him away, as police continued to fire water cannons at them from atop police buses.

Doctors told Baek's family that his condition was too fragile to attempt emergency surgery, Cho said. An official at Seoul National University hospital said she couldn't comment on Baek's condition due to privacy rules.

Demonstrators, many of them masked, carried banners and chanted "Park Geun-hye, step down" and "No to layoffs" as they occupied a major downtown street. Some of them clashed with police, who created tight perimeters with their buses to block them.

Protesters tried to move some of the buses by pulling ropes they had tied to the vehicles, and police, wearing helmets and body armor, responded by firing tear gas and water cannons at them.

Police also fired water cannons from above a portable wall nearby to disperse marchers who were trying to advance. Some protesters fought back by hitting police officers camped on the top of the buses with poles. Others smashed the windows of the buses with sticks or spray-painted anti-government slogans on them.

Police detained at least 12 people for allegedly violent behavior, according to an official at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, who didn't want to be named, citing office rules. Police said they could not immediately confirm the number of people injured in the clashes.

Earlier in the day, members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, an umbrella labor union, clashed with police who unsuccessfully tried to detain KCTU President Han Sang-goon during a news conference. A Seoul court had issued an arrest warrant for Han over a failed court appearance, after he was indicted for his involvement in organizing a May protest that turned violent.

"If lawmakers try to pass the (government's) bill that will make labor conditions worse, we will respond with a general strike and that will probably be in early December," said Han, moments before police moved in and forced him to flee inside a building as his colleagues blocked the officers.

Police said the crowd was the largest at a demonstration in Seoul since May 2008, when about 100,000 people poured onto the streets to protest the government's decision to resume U.S. beef imports amid lingering mad cow fears.

Labor groups have been denouncing government attempts to change labor laws to allow larger freedom for companies in laying off workers, which policymakers say would be critical in improving a bleak job market for young people.

Critics say that the state-issued history textbooks, which have not been written yet, would be politically driven and might attempt to whitewash the brutal dictatorships that preceded South Korea's bloody transition toward democracy in the 1980s.

President Park is the daughter of slain military dictator Park Chung-hee, who ruled South Korea in the 1960s and '70s, and whose legacy as a successful economic strategist is marred by records of severe oppression.

In May, South Korean police detained more than 40 people when protests over the government's labor policies and the handling of a year-old ferry disaster spiraled into violence, leaving several demonstrators and police injured and many police buses damaged.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.