Elementary students pressured into protest

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Elementary students pressured into protest


A student pickaxes a dummy on Feb. 3 at a rally organized by a farmer’s group in Jeongeup, North Jeolla. A Jeongeup resident took this photo. [NEWSIS]

JEONGEUP, North Jeolla - Farmers who last week insisted that four passing elementary school students pickax five scarecrows as part of their protest of rice prices have apologized.

Outrage erupted after photographs showing three of the children hacking the dummies - meant to represent Jeongeup city’s five agricultural chiefs - hit newspapers, and the farmer’s group came under fire as public outcry escalated.

The group of farmers from North Jeolla Province received a flood of calls condemning them for having young children kill a man in effigy.

“We offer a sincere apology to Jeongeup residents, elementary school students and parents for causing trouble,” read the statement run by the farmers’ group in the Wednesday edition of the local Jeongeup newspaper. “Our performance was intended to express our anger against the cooperative chiefs, but we hadn’t meant to have elementary school children participate. We will make sure this does not happen again.”

For three months, the group had been protesting the Nonghyup, or National Agricultural Cooperative Federation’s decision to set the purchase price of rice this year at 44,000 won ($38) per 40 kilogram bag - 2,000 won less than the group had demanded. The five chiefs responded that they would go no higher, because for 10 years the cooperative had been paying the farmers more than the rice brought in at market.

The farmers, however, blamed the cooperative for mismanaging its business, and said they should not bear the loss for the cooperative’s mistake.

On Feb. 3, the protests took on a gruesome hue when the farmers began beating dummies that had been dressed in white cloth and splashed with red paint to symbolize blood. The already grotesque demonstration ran out of control when the students walked by, and some farmers told them to pickax the scarecrows.

The children, all between 8 and 9 years old, desperately and repeatedly tried to refuse, but the farmers insisted they take up the sharp metal pickaxes and stab at the dummies. One student told the press she felt “gross and strange after piercing the dummies several times with the pickax.”

Although adults were passing by and witnessed the incident, none stepped in to help the children.

The farmers’ group said the members went to the students’ school the day after the incident to apologize.

By Jang Dae-suk, Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

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