[EDITORIALS]Protests warrant firm handOn Wednesday, when farmers and the Korean Federation of Trade Unions engaged in a nationwide protest opposing a free trade agreement between the United States and Korea, public facilities were burned and violence prevailed in 13 cities throughout the nation. In the city of Daejon, protesters climbed the fence of the Chungcheong provincial office and set it afire. These protesters fought a violent battle with police forces trying to stop them and wielded sticks. Scenes of that day were similar to street fights, and dozens of windows at Gwangju city hall were smashed. In a word, it was lawlessness.
The first responsibility for this mess lies with the police, who permitted the protests and failed to respond properly. The police failed to notice that the Korean Alliance against KorUS FTA, which orchestrated the protests, had planned them simultaneously on a nationwide scale. Furthermore, it failed in devising proper measures to prevent violent acts and arson, despite having prior intelligence that protesters planned to enter provincial government buildings. There is no excuse for that.
The lax attitude and measures taken by the police are no surprise in light of an indecisive leadership of the police. Last month, Police Commissioner General Lee Taek-sun said he would take stern measures against protesters that blocked traffic in the city. Therefore, the police didn’t approve a protest rally requested by the Korean Alliance against KorUS FTA on Monday and Friday. Nevertheless, when the rally’s location was changed from the Gwanghwamun area to Seoul Plaza, the rally was allowed under the pretext that citizens have the right to hold rallies. Under such circumstances, it’s hard for police officers who have to prevent illegal protests to know to which tune to dance. The soft attitude towards illegal protests has fueled this lawlessness and the deterioration of public power.
But what is even more problematic is that the loss of public power cannot be attributed to the police alone. In November of last year, the head of the police had to resign over the deaths of two farmers who participated in a violent protest rally in Yeouido, while authorities showed leniency towards the protesters that had wielded sticks. Under such circumstances, police officers who had been assaulted by protesters tried to hide such facts. If the country is not to be left in this state of lawlessness the government needs to show a firm hand against illegal and violent protests.