8,000 rally in Seoul to back farmers, protest trade
Stars and Stripes June 22, 2007
SEOUL — Eight thousand South Koreans gathered downtown on Wednesday to protest a planned free trade agreement with the United States, saying it would put the country’s farms out of business.
“The agreement is a nuclear bomb to wipe out all the Korean farmers,” said Lee Sang-duk, a 48-year-old livestock farmer from a small town in the southeastern corner of the country, near Busan.
Farmers from across the country traveled by tour bus to Seoul City Hall for the peaceful afternoon rally and march, some waving flags and wearing headbands condemning the agreement. South Korean riot police attended the rally, but no major clashes were reported as of Wednesday evening.
U.S. Forces Korea issued an advisory urging U.S. citizens to avoid the 20,000 expected demonstrators, and to avoid using public transportation in the downtown area for most of Wednesday.
U.S. and South Korean officials are meeting late this week to revise parts of the free trade agreement, reached in April, so it has a better chance of being approved by Congress, Yonhap News reported. Many South Koreans believe the free trade agreement will give unfair advantages to U.S. companies and products.
Kim Hak-do, 48, who owns a small tomato farm near Daejon, expects his business to fail if the trade agreement passes because people will want to buy cheaper imported tomatoes.
“I just want to survive with my family,” he said
Many protesters were angry at the South Korean government, which they felt was abandoning them, but not at the United States.
“It is not like we are angry with the U.S. for pushing their own concerns, but I am very frustrated that we don’t have the (South Korean) government speaking for us,” said Kwon Phil-whan, a pig farmer who believes there is no future for farmers in South Korea.
Rice farmer Lee Jung-ik said the agreement will benefit big Korean companies like Hyundai, as well as American farmers.
“We will end up being the losers,” he said. “I don’t think it is wrong for the U.S. to pursue its own interests. But there must be a win-win policy that will be good for the Korean farmers and the Americans.”
Rice farmer Han Sang-yun, however, was angry at the United States.
“I hate America for always trying to rob the weak person,” he said. “The Korea government is not standing by the poor and the weak people, either.”