Tue, Aug 04, 2009 - Page 5 News List

S Korean officers arrest 10 activists protesting rally ban

AFP , SEOUL

South Korean police yesterday detained 10 activists protesting against a government ban on rallies at a new US$36 million showpiece plaza in the capital.

Gwanghwamun Plaza, featuring new national monuments, pedestrian-friendly boulevards and fountains, opened on Saturday along Seoul’s main avenue Sejongno and has attracted more than 370,000 visitors since then.

The conservative government, which was rocked by months of street protests last summer, has said it will only allow “orderly cultural events” at the landmark that took 15 months to complete.

Dozens of opposition party legislators and members of left-leaning civic groups gathered at the plaza yesterday, calling the ban a blow to civil liberties.

Police detained 10 of them, saying they were staging an illegal rally rather than a news conference as they claimed.

“They are being investigated for holding an illegal rally at a place where unauthorized demonstrations and gatherings are banned,” a Seoul police spokesman said.

The protesters, quoted by Yonhap news agency, said the plaza had not been properly returned to its rightful owners, the public.

“With the ban on legal demonstrations and rallies, the plaza is nothing but a garden belonging to the Seoul Metropolitan Government,” they said.

Last summer’s mass demonstrations were sparked by a decision to resume US beef imports after a suspension because of fears of mad cow disease. Rallies later took on an anti-government tone and sometimes ended in clashes with hundreds of riot police.

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