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Thu, Nov 30, 2006 - Page 10 News List

S Korean police ready for FTA protests

JOB FEARS More than 50,000 riot police were deployed to prevent large-scale protests from farmers worried that a free-trade pact with the US would destroy their way of life

AFP , SEOUL

A farmer shouts slogans after riot police blocked him from holding a street demonstratio at a major railway station in Seoul yesterday. About 50,000 police were mobilized across South Korea to enforce a ban on protests against a proposed free trade agreement with the US.

PHOTO: AFP

Authorities in South Korea mobilized more than 50,000 riot police yesterday as protesters vowed to press ahead with a wave of demonstrations against a proposed free trade deal with the US.

The Korean Alliance Against the Korea-US FTA earlier predicted that more than 100,000 people would join the street demonstrations in seven cities in spite of a ban on rallies.

"We will go ahead with planned protests, although many cannot reach designated places today due to tough police action," a coalition spokesman said.

Police said more than 50,000 officers were deployed.

"Many officers were deployed at checkpoints leading to highways and bus terminals, blocking vehicles carrying protesters, but there have been no reports of violence as yet," National Police Agency spokesman Chung Yoon-chung said.

Unpopular

The proposed free trade pact is unpopular with farmers who say it will kill off their traditional lifestyle, as well as with other workers who fear for their jobs.

Yesterday last week about 70,000 people rallied in Seoul and several other locations, triggering clashes with riot police in some places that left 63 people injured.

However police secured arrest warrants on Tuesday for 42 activists after the left-leaning government launched a crackdown and declared zero tolerance for street violence.

Separately, union officials said 113,600 workers joined a four-hour strike at 185 worksites including the country's largest carmaker Hyundai Motor, to protest against labour law reforms and the free trade pact.

The labor ministry put the number at 36,000.

The strike was organized for the second Wednesday in succession by the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, which has led anti-FTA protests along with farmers and other groups.

US ambassador Alexander Vershbow has said studies show that a pact would create nearly half a million new jobs in Korea alone.

New rounds

After a fourth round of talks in October, both sides in the tough talks expressed hope for an eventual deal even though the lengthy negotiations will drag on into next year.

A fifth round is scheduled for next month in the US and a sixth in South Korea in January.

The negotiations on what would be the biggest US free-trade deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement must end well before US President George W. Bush's authority to push through such legislation expires on June 30.

South Korea, Asia's fourth-largest economy, is the seventh-biggest trading partner of the US. Two-way trade reached US$72 billion last year.

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