Tuition rallies continue, 72 students arrested

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Tuition rallies continue, 72 students arrested


A college student holds a candle Friday night at a rally to demand lower tuition. [NEWSIS]

Thousands of students and other people protesting high college tuition staged a series of candlelight vigils over the weekend, including a 5,000-strong rally on Friday, claiming tuition is a matter of survival to them.

Since the first protest on May 29, the rallies, dubbed the “candlelight vigils for half-priced tuition without any conditions,” have been held daily, although the sizes have varied.

Police have not given approval for the rallies at Cheonggye Plaza, central Seoul, but they have allowed the peaceful rallies to proceed. However, the police presence at the scene has been strong. On Saturday, about 200 protesters gathered there without conflict against 1,800 police.

On Friday, around 5,000 students, parents and civil rights activists gathered at around 7 p.m. for the 13th candlelight vigil at Cheonggye Plaza. Some liberal political figures were also there celebrating the 14th anniversary of the June 10, 1987 democratization movement.

There were few clashes between demonstrators and the roughly 1,200 policemen there until about 70 students tried to storm the Blue House at around 9:00 p.m., demanding President Lee Myung-bak keep his pledge from the 2007 presidential election to cut tuitions in half.

Police arrested 72 university students and they are under investigation at eight police precincts in Seoul.

After the event finished at around 10:40 p.m., about 2,000 demonstrators paraded near Gwanggyo, a bridge near Cheonggye Plaza, but dispersed at around midnight without conflict with police.

“Paying tuition doesn’t stop at graduation,” Park Hui-jin, head of Korea Youth Solidarity, said in a speech on Friday. “If young people can’t pay their student loans, they will be labeled a ‘credit delinquent.’ But in today’s economy, most university students can’t find a job after graduation. This is the reality for Korean students.”

Lee Jung-hee, floor leader of the Democratic Labor Party, said, “We can no longer delay discussion about lowering tuition. We will talk about this as one of the key issues at the National Assembly’s extra session in June.”

Said New Progressive Party floor leader Cho Seung-soo: “Along with high tuition, we should discuss the overall state of university education in Korea.”

In interviews with the Korea JoongAng Daily, students and parents at the rally said the cost of higher education is of central importance to their lives.

“My parents can’t afford my tuition so I have been paying it all, which is a big burden for me,” said Lee Ho-min, 25, who attends the Korea National University of Arts.

Lee said he was forced to suspend his studies for nearly two years to make money.

“It’s about 6 million won ($5,540) per year, and I’m now doing part-time jobs almost every day to pay for it,” Lee said. “Although the government is trying to reduce the interest on student loans, it will still take a long time to pay them off after graduation unless I’m employed by a big company. I hope tuition will be reduced at least by half.”

Lee Ji-hun, 25, a student at Korea University, said, “Although my parents are paying my tuition, which is about 7 million won per year, I always feel sorry for them. I think cutting tuition is important, but there are other problems that need to be solved in universities, such as increasing the number of faculty members on campuses. In my university, professors are really busy, giving both undergraduate and postgraduate lectures and also doing administration, which results in declining teaching quality.”

Jeong Sang-hui, a 53-year-old mother whose son is a senior at a sports college, said about 15 million won ($13,850) per year goes into raising her son, including tuition.

“The total amount in tuition I’ve had to pay for four years is huge,” Jeong said. “I think it’s problematic that universities are spending their reserve funds for other purposes, not for helping students financially. I saw lots of boys suffering from repaying student loans.”

Gong Jae-gyeong, 49, a father of two sons, said, “I’m paying about 12 million won for my first son, who is freshman. But my younger son will attend university next year and the amount I pay will double. I think universities should be transparent about their budgets.”

Jeong Nam-ok, 66, said, “I hope lawmakers won’t make tuition a political issue alone, but try to help people out.”

By Kim Hee-jin []

한글 관련 기사 [연합]

서울서 ‘반값 등록금 촉구’ 14번째 집회

한국대학생연합(한대련) 소속 대학생과 시민 등 200여명(주최측 추산 300여명)은 11일 오후 7시 서울 청계광장 인근 여성가족부 앞 인도에서 14번째 촛불 문화제를 열고 정부와 여당에 반값 등록금 공약 이행을 촉구했다.

한대련 관계자는 "어제 촛불집회를 통해 학생과 시민의 뜨거운 반응을 확인한 만큼 매일 오후 7시 청계광장에서 촛불집회를 진행할 예정"이라고 말했다.

한대련은 이달 말까지 광화문 촛불집회를 이어가는 한편, 매주 금요일에는 정치권, 시민사회단체 등과 연계해 대규모 집회를 열 계획이다.

경찰은 이날 경력 28개 중대 1천800여명을 집회 현장 인근과 도심 지역에 배치했으며, 이날 집회에 앞서 소라탑 광장에 장비를 설치하려는 학생들과 잠시 몸싸움을 벌이기도 했다.

한편 서울지방경찰청은 10일 오후 청와대 인근에서 기습 시위를 벌인 혐의로 연행한 대학생 72명 중 대부분이 묵비권을 행사함에 따라 11일에도 이들을 시내 8개 경찰서에서 조사하고 있다.

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