Not Jeju’s finest

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Not Jeju’s finest

A police chief was pelted with rice balls by residents and activists protesting the construction of a naval base in Gangjeong Village on the southern tip of Jeju Island. Police yielded to the protesters’ fury, locking themselves inside a police station to protect themselves from the angry demonstrators. The police basically gave in to the illegal protests that have suspended construction of a base to boost our defense capabilities.

The whole incident would have been farcical if it wasn’t tragic. The police raided a rally at the construction site Wednesday afternoon and arrested the village leader Gang Dong-gyun. But then the police were encircled and held hostage by the protesting villagers for seven hours. The officer were eventually released and allowed to go their way only after agreeing to drive back to the station in the protestors’ cars instead of police cars and scrap the evidence of the violence that had been inflicted. A humiliating photo showed Song Yang-hwa, chief of the Seogwipo Police, trudging back to the station with grains of rice clinging to his head.

The scene was pure mayhem. A priest of the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice jumped on a police car and some protesters wrapped themselves in a chain and laid on the ground to prevent the police from detaining their ringleader. More than 400 policemen were at the scene, but they were helpless against 100 protesters.

The plan to establish a naval base in Gangjeong was decided in April 2007 by the Roh Moo-hyun administration. The project underwent public hearings, a referendum and a court trial before it was carried out. But it has been stalled due to fervent opposition from a group of residents and activists from the mainland. Of the 980 billion won ($905 million) budget, about 140 billion won had already been spent on the construction until it was stopped in June. What was a small-scale protest turned nasty after anti-American and antigovernment activist groups joined.

Some sympathizing groups are planning to fly to Jeju this weekend to join the protest. Jeju police are particularly discreet in using force against the residents, who are still haunted by a tragic massacre of leftists before and during the 1950-53 Korean War. But if the police remain on the sidelines, this will jeopardize social order and state authority. Any illegal action should be strictly punished. Suspension of construction is costing 5.98 billion won every month. The “Peace Island” should not be used as an ideological battlefield.
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