Mayor rails against law to open Seoul Plaza to all

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Mayor rails against law to open Seoul Plaza to all

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon begged the Seoul Metropolitan Council to review its decision to open up Seoul Plaza to any group that wants to gather there, including anti-government protestors.

Last month, the opposition-controlled council passed a revised ordinance allowing people to hold rallies and other events at the plaza in front of City Hall without seeking permission from anyone. Previously, the Seoul mayor granted permission.

In a press conference yesterday morning, Oh said the council must review its course of action “after conducting surveys or public hearings involving Seoul residents.” Oh also said it wasn’t too late for the council to change its decision.

“As mayor of Seoul, I respect the Seoul Metropolitan Council, but I can’t help agonizing over potential adverse effects caused by the changed ordinance,” Oh said. “Let’s make a mature decision after reflecting various opinions from different groups.”

Seoul Plaza has been a popular venue for cultural events since its opening in May 2004. But political rallies have not been allowed there, and opposition party councilors have long argued the regulation infringes on free speech rights.

Under the law, a mayor can raise issues with a city council within 20 days if he or she believes the council’s decision will gravely harm the public interest. Oh criticized the ordinance 19 days after it was passed, arguing that it “violates a principle of democracy that respects separation of powers.”

Oh’s announcement provoked ire from Democratic Party members, who hold a majority on the council, accounting for 79 out of 114 seats.

DP councilor Park Jin-hyeong, who initiated the revision bill, demanded Oh withdraw his request.

“Mayor Oh said the revised ordinance breaches his authority, but Oh’s argument is based on a wrong perception that the civic committee is under his control,” Park said in a press conference yesterday afternoon.

Seoul city councilors will meet on Friday for a second vote on the passage of the revised ordinance.

The revised ordinance will be valid when it is supported by a two-thirds vote with a quorum of a majority of council members. The math is in the DP’s favor, as the party controls over 70 percent of council seats.

Under the revised ordinance, the Seoul city council head will also have full authority to recommend 12 out of 15 outside experts for the plaza management committee, which advises on the running of the plaza. Before the changes were made, Oh was in charge of appointing committee members.

By Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

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