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South Korea’s Biggest Protest in 7 Years

A violent rally or an excessive use of suppression?

Saturday, November 14th, police fired water cannons and demonstrators swung metal pipes. Shortly, the once peaceful Gwanghwamun Square fell into a state of chaos, the largest protest against President Park’s presidency.

With the recent decision of the government to replace history textbooks, more than 130,000 people from 53 different activist groups, gathered in downtown Seoul, to protest grievances against the current decisions of President Park Geun-hye’s government. Protesters proposed eleven different requests for the government dissents from labor reforms in favor of chaebols.

South Korean protestors stage a large rally against the government outside the City Hall in Seoul on November 14, 2015. Tens of thousand of people took to the streets in central Seoul in a massive protest against the conservative government's drive for labour reform and state-issued history textbooks. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)

Tens of thousand of people took to the streets in central Seoul in a massive protest against the conservative government’s drive for labour reform and state-issued history textbooks. (The Huffington Post)

At 4:00PM, after finishing rallies at different areas throughout the city, protesters started to assemble into Gwanghwamun Square. However, the Square was completely obstructed. Already organized since 1:00PM, in order to prevent the entry, the police had started creating a barricade with buses.

Thus after about thirty minutes, as demonstrators attempted to enter through the barricade, the protests started to become chaotic, and clashes between demonstrators and police grew.

Police use water cannons to block South Korean protestors following a large rally against the government in downtown Seoul on November 14, 2015. Tens of thousands of people took to the street in central Seoul in a massive protest against the conservative government's drive for labour reform and state-issued history textbooks. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)

Anti-government protesters revolt against barricades deployed by police. (The Huffington Post)

According to The Korea Herald, there were about 22,000 police officers and 700 buses mobilized to suppress the protests. They fired cannons of water containing liquid tear gas and blue paint to identify and disperse the marching protesters. On the other side were some radical protesters who struck back by assaulting police officers, smashing windows, and pulling down buses.

As a result, the police arrested 51 people for attacking barricading forces, and over thousands of protesters were injured due to the suppression of police. Furthermore, Baek Nam-gi, a farmer who took part in pulling the rope tied to a police bus, had to undergo brain surgery after the police hit him with the water cannon. One hundred thirteen police officers were injured by the protester’s assault.

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Protesters use ropes to pull away government vehicles while police fire water cannons at the crowd. (Business Insider).

After the protest, a dispute has formed regarding the issue of whether this happening was a consequence of an utterly violent rally or of an excessive use of force by the police.

Claiming the crowd rather excessively aggressive, the Minister of Justice, Kim Hyun-woong argued,

“Our concern became reality as violent, radical protests took place at the heart of Seoul. We allowed legal, peaceful assemblies to a great extent, but some protesters committed violence by using illegal weapons like steel pipes to beat the police.”

On the other hand of the controversy, Maeng Haeng-il(73) “accused President Park administration of breaking the Constitution by stifling freedom of expression and mobilizing the police for its own sake” (The Korea Herald). He said,

“I feel like we are in the 1970s again. President Park is doing exactly the same thing as her dictator father did during his presidency. Democracy is backtracking. The traffic disruption cited by the police is just an excuse (for the crackdown).”

However, the reason for both the protest and its quarrel was the selective views of the people, unwilling to look at the issue in a broader angle and instead blindly accusing the other side. Both the citizens’ decision to protest with violence and the decision to use excessive force for suppression were unquestionably not lawful and upright decisions.

 

– Yoo Bin Shin (‘18)

(Featured Image: The Korea Herald)

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