Mon, Dec 30, 2013 - Page 5 News List

South Korean railway reform plan criticized

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS:At least 20,000 people joined a rally against the state railway plan in Seoul on Saturday, demanding the scrapping of the changes

AFP, SEOUL

South Korean opposition lawmakers yesterday stepped up criticism of the government’s plan to reorganize the state railway, a day after a mass rally in protest at feared layoffs.

The government this month announced a plan to spin off part of state-run Korea Railway (Korail) and allow other state-run firms to buy the shares in the spinoff.

It said the move was aimed at revitalizing the debt-ridden railway, that has suffered from chronic and growing losses.

However, thousands of railway workers, including train drivers, suspect the move is a prelude to privatization along with mass layoffs and pay cuts, and have staged a partial strike since Dec. 9.

At least 20,000 workers, activists and supporters staged a rally in central Seoul on Saturday, demanding the scrapping of the changes.

The rally — the biggest in the country this year — was staged amid high security involving about 13,000 police officers. No major incidents were reported.

Sul Hoon, a lawmaker of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), slammed South Korean President Park Geun-hye for pushing ahead with the plan despite calls for more negotiations with workers.

“The latest railway crisis will never be resolved by merely cracking down [on workers on the strike],” Sul said in a meeting with Korail union members along with dozens of other DP lawmakers yesterday.

About 30 union leaders have been accused of an of fence of disrupting business and are being sought by police. Three of them have been arrested, while some others have taken shelter at a temple in central Seoul.

Police rarely enter a temple or church for fear of sparking a backlash.

“The current deadlock will never be solved unless President Park changes her mind,” Sul said, accusing her administration of “extreme bigotry and obstinacy.”

Senior DP member Woo Won-shik also urged the government to resume talks with workers to end the partial strike that has caused weeks of delays or cancelations in train and subway services across the country.

“It’s time for Park to make a decision. Otherwise she will be faced ... with opposition across the country,” Unified Progressive Party floor leader Oh Byung-yun told a press conference yesterday.

About 6,600 Korail workers — nearly a third of the total of 20,473 — were on strike as of yesterday, the company said.

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