[EDITORIALS]Punishing protestersA standoff between the government and protesters over the transfer of a U.S. military base to Pyeongtaek is getting worse. The protesters cut through a a wire fence, broke into military quarters and beat soldiers.
The protesters are raising their voices, saying, “No changes in our protest principles.” The Defense Ministry said that the demonstrators who acted illegally would be punished under military law. Soldiers were provided with batons for self-defense.
After the military intervention, the core of the controversy over the U.S. military’s relocation to Pyeongtaek was revealed clearly. The protest was not for the villagers’ right to farm and live there. Instead, anti-U.S. protesters used this area as their stage for fighting against the U.S. military presence in Korea.
The proof is that most of the protesters who resisted leaving the area until they were forced out were civic group members, not villagers. And none of those for whom prosecutors requested arrest warrants are villagers.
The remarks by an Uri Party legislator, Im Jong-in, should be criticized. He had been with leading protesters during the clashes and said on a television program that the military raid “reminded me of the raid at a local government office on the last night of the Gwangju massacre in 1980.”
When a governing party member is at the scene of a clash, he can be seen as nothing but a violent protester. They used violence when the government used rightful force in order to carry out a critical project that had been agreed to by the National Assembly. If a lawmaker is leading this demonstration, can we call him a National Assemblyman? Also, comparing this intervention with the suppression in Gwangju is outrageous.
President Roh Moo-yun issued a public order when he said, “Peaceful rallies are allowed to take place, but illicit acts and violence should not be condoned.” Although this remark seems to have been made far too late, the judicial authorities should impose heavy punishment for illicit acts according to the principles of law and order. The security of all citizens cannot be weakened because of a small number of anti-U.S. demonstrators.
The administration’s lukewarm response to the protests is also a problem. The leading protesters have eluded the law for the past 600 days. The authorities issued summons but couldn't do anything to compel the protesters to answer the summons.
This time we need to make them take responsibility for what they did, not repeat the errors of the past.