Fri, Nov 21, 2003 - Page 5 News List

South Korea vows crackdown on violent protesters

AP , SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA

The South Korean government yesterday vowed to crack down on violent protesters, a day after a clash between farmers and riot police in Seoul left dozens injured.

"We note that the incident occurred despite our repeated announcement that we will track down and hold responsible those involved in illegal and violent protests," the government said in a statement, adding without elaboration that it will take "stern measures according to the law."

Hundreds of farmers and police pummeled each other with sticks late Wednesday during a protest against WTO negotiations and a free-trade deal with Chile, which the farmers claim could threaten their livelihoods. Farmers fear that the Chile deal, which has yet to be ratified by lawmakers, would flood the market with cheap agricultural goods.

The National Police Agency said about 30 police officers and riot police were injured. Police also detained some 100 protesters.

An official at the farmers' association said about 30 farmers were injured.

Farmers swung wooden sticks and hurled glass bottles at helmeted riot police, who fought back with plastic batons and shields. Protesters also set fire to police buses.

Under the free-trade deal with Chile, South Korea would remove tariffs on Chilean copper products, animal feed, wheat, wool and tomatoes, as well as fisheries products. Tariffs on other Chilean goods would be eliminated in five to 10 years.

Chile would in return lift all tariffs on South Korean cars, trucks, mobile phones, computers, TV sets and air conditioners.

South Korean farmers benefited from a closed market and government subsidies until Seoul ended its decades-old ban on rice imports in 1994.

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