Sun, Jan 04, 2009 - Page 11 News List

Scuffle erupts at Seoul parliament

ON EDGE Several people were injured in a scrap over a free-trade agreement. About 200 security guards forcibly removed lawmakers who were holding a sit-in

AFP , SEOUL

Parliament security officials drag away an opposition party member who took part in a sit-in demonstration in front of a main entrance of the parliament plenary session hall at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Clashes broke out in South Korea yesterday when security guards tried to break up a protest by opposition lawmakers that has paralyzed parliament for weeks.

Several people were injured in the scuffle that broke out when about 200 guards began forcibly removing lawmakers holding a sit-in in the parliament building.

TV footage showed security guards grabbing some of the lawmakers by the arms and legs, while others linked arms and chanted slogans in protest.

“I’ve never seen anything like this, even during the [late president Park Chung-hee’s] Yushin dictatorship,” said Chung Sei-kyun, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), who led the protest.

Authorities at the National Assembly had earlier asked the DP to end its sit-in and remove banners from the building’s walls.

Scores of DP legislators had occupied parliament since the middle of last month to prevent the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) pushing through a free trade pact with the United States and other controversial bills.

Clashes involving sledgehammers and fire extinguishers broke out on Dec. 18 after the GNP insisted the free trade pact, signed by Seoul and Washington last year but awaiting ratification by both legislatures, be approved quickly.

The opposition, which has 83 seats in the 299-member legislature compared with the GNP’s 172, said South Korea should not ratify it until the US Congress also moves to do so.

The ruling party has argued that the pact as necessary to stimulate the slowing economy and argues that approval by Seoul will encourage the US Congress to move faster.

But there is strong opposition to the pact among including farmers and other workers who fear it will hit jobs.

Also controversial is a bill to allow large businesses and newspapers to acquire controlling stakes in local broadcasters, which critics would strengthen the right’s control on news media.

The rival parties are also wrangling over tax cuts for the wealthy, easing regulations on industrial conglomerates’ ownership of banks and privatizing the state-run Korea Development Bank.

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