10,000 protest four rivers project
A 10,000-strong assembly that included 300 priests massed yesterday at Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul, in protest of the project. It was the first mass protest of a government policy held at the cathedral since a 1987 demonstration for democratization.
Also yesterday, academics and leaders of various civic and religious groups officially asked President Lee Myung-bak to hold public discussions about the restoration project.
“We have made several requests to the government for an official talk about the four rivers project, but we have been ignored,” Park Chang-geun, head of the four rivers special committee at the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements, said at the activists’ press conference.
The project, which Lee’s administration launched last fall to restore the Han, Geum, Nakdong and Yeongsan rivers and their banks, has been rushed, according to opposition parties, environmental and religious groups, among others. The administration has been accused of starting the project without enough environmental assessment, and the project has been called a waste of tax money and a threat to the ecosystems in and around the four rivers.
Since 1987, the Myeongdong Cathedral had banned anti-government assemblies from taking place inside the cathedral, but made an exception this time because the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea has already made public their opposition to the project.
Thousands of Catholics, including some from outside the capital, gathered inside the cathedral yesterday at 2 p.m. A priest, Yun Jong-il, said, “the four rivers project must be re-examined entirely,” adding that the project has gone against the government’s initial intentions and has destroyed fish and plant life around the rivers.
“It is hard to understand that the government is carrying out a project worth more than 20 trillion won [$17.6 billion] without the consent of the public,” he said.
“I don’t understand how [the government] can destroy and dig into rivers which have to live on for generations,” said Park Seok-sun, 64, who came from Incheon yesterday.
In response, the four rivers division at the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs used the media and Internet portals to suggest a public discussion to clear up “unnecessary controversy” surrounding the matter.
“We will decide the specific time and place for the discussion by consultation with the religious and civic groups,” said Ahn Si-gwon, division head for the four rivers project at the ministry. “It is possible the discussion can be held sometime this month.”
By Cho Jae-eun, Kang Chan-su [firstname.lastname@example.org]