Sultry animal rights activists stripped down in the freezing weather to bare their skin on Friday to try to save the hides of millions of animals slaughtered for fur garments.
Wearing nothing more than flimsy underwear, painted-on leopard spots, cat's ears and carrying a banner reading "Only Animals Should Wear Fur," two young women from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) marched down the street at the busy commercial block of Myeongdong.
A crowd of curious, mostly male onlookers feasted their eyes on the activists who braved the numbing winter weather to show their skins and shout slogans.
But several plainclothes policemen quickly forced their way through the group, wrapped the two naked women with blankets and overcoats and dragged them to a nearby police station.
The two were then charged with "indecent exposure" and ordered to appear before court where they will likely be fined, said Lisa Franzetta, one of the two protestors and the coordinator of PETA's international "Anti-Fur" Campaign.
"People just need to know if they are buying fur coats ... that animal was either electrocuted, or poisoned or had their neck broken simply for the sake of fashion," she said.
"We know when the Korean people become more aware of the really incredible suffering and violence behind the fur industry, they will reject fur. That's why we were out there showing some of our own skin today in the hopes that it will help save the skins of the millions of animals," she said.
Traditionally, North America, Western Europe, the Nordic countries and Russia have been the major markets for fur garments.
But because of the declining fur industry's desperate efforts to create new markets, sales of furs have expanded to South Korea, China and Japan, PETA said.
"With today's toasty and fashionable synthetics, there's no excuse to wear fur," said Christina Cho, who took part in the protest with Franzetta.
Sales of fur garments in South Korea had been increasing until the economy fell into a slump in 2003. At that time annual sales were roughly estimated at US$400 million.
"Differently from those in Europe, clients in South Korea are not affected much by anti-fur campaigns as the winter here is too cold to reject fur coats," said Han Sang-hoon, a manager of Jindo Corp, a leading fur coat maker in Seoul.
South Korea was the last leg of PETA's Asian campaign which also took the activists to Japan and China.
"This is the first anti-fur protest in South Korea but certainly it won't be the last," Franzetta said.
Meanwhile, South Korea's deputy prime minister in charge of education stepped down on Friday amid allegations of unethical conduct after serving in his post for only three days.
Civic groups have accused Lee Ki-jun, a former president of Seoul National University, of spending school funds improperly and hiding real estate assets under his son's name.
``I think the problems surrounding me are causing too big a burden for the president and people,'' Lee said in a statement he read before reporters. He didn't take questions.
Lee was appointed by President Roh Moo-hyun on Tuesday, and took office the following day.
There was no immediate comment from Roh's office, which faced criticism that it failed to review Lee's record thoroughly before his appointment.