S. Korea: Violent protesters to be punished
SEOUL — In response to a series of violent clashes between protesters and police over the past two weeks, South Korean officials are promising “severe” punishment for demonstrators who get out of hand.
And though the protests that sparked the response were related to labor and agricultural problems, officials said the same sanctions — ranging from jail time to hefty fines — would apply to violent protests at U.S. military installations.
Cabinet-level officials and police chiefs emerged from a meeting last week promising “the government will not compromise with violent protesters, but will take legal steps to punish them,” a government spokesman told reporters.
Earlier last week, an estimated 70,000 farmers from across the country staged a mass protest outside the parliament building in Seoul, rallying against a free trade agreement with Latin American countries. Thousands more labor union members joined the protest, police said, sparking clashes with riot police that left more than 50 people injured.
Days before, more than 3,000 protesters in western South Korea rallied against the government’s plan to build a nuclear waste dump in the area. Protesters tossed homemade firebombs at riot police, who responded with shields and clubs.
Several media reports called the clashes reminiscent of the fierce battles between student protesters and police during the 1980s, when South Korea was making a shaky transition to full democracy.
Other news reports detailed the use of firebombs and slingshots by protesters; some activists were arrested after shooting metal bolts with homemade slingshots.
But such violence has been largely absent from the protests aimed at American military facilities. Incidents earlier this year of protesters scaling base walls and throwing bottles of paint at guards have been curbed.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, have handed out prison sentences to several student activists who participated in protests or raids on U.S. compounds.
Most recently, the Seoul District Court sentenced student activists to 13 prison terms ranging from 18 to 30 months for their role in an August raid on Rodriguez Range during a live-fire exercise for the Stryker armored personnel carrier.
U.S. Forces Korea in the past has issued statements saying they appreciated the prosecution of illegal entrants.