Police see Jeju ‘festival’ as ruse
Police are preparing to use force to control growing opposition to a naval base being built on Jeju as a watered-down rally is expected to go ahead on Saturday despite a court injunction against it.
Some 449 riot police were dispatched from the mainland yesterday to the tense coastal village of Gangjeong in Seogwipo, the island’s second-biggest city, to join the 157 riot police previously sent there from Gyeonggi.
Construction of the 530,000- square-meter (131-acre) base, which is about 30 percent complete, has ground to a halt as protestors from the island and mainland have physically blocked workers from entering the site.
Opposition to the base has been mounting since the central government announced the plan in 2007, and construction has been stalled for several months.
The protestors, who see the base as a threat to peace on the island, are expecting to see their numbers swell in the coming days as supporters from other parts of the country fly in to join a festival on Saturday that could turn into an illegal rally.
Organizers of the so-called “Plane for Peace” rally have agreed to cancel the demonstration and hold a festival instead after the Jeju District Court granted an injunction on Tuesday forbidding any interference with the base construction.
But authorities suspect the parade is a ruse to keep the rally alive as it includes a parade along a section of the Jeju Olle Trails that passes by the base site on the way to Seogwipo’s Gureombi Beach.
“Although they said they would hold a peaceful festival, they had better refrain from entering the construction site as this would be illegal,” said Yun Jong-gi, the police officer in charge of crowd control at the festival.
“We are sending a large force out to deal with any possible contingencies.”
Some 2,000 people are expected to attend, including 170 people aboard a T’way Air flight from Gimpo Airport - the source of the canceled rally’s name.
The Catholic Human Rights Committee purchased their tickets to fortify numbers at the event, which has since been renamed the “Let’s play, play, play with Gangjeong” festival.
The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency sent six mobile squads, including two teams of female police to deal with children and elderly people, to the island yesterday evening.
The new arrivals will conduct riot-control maneuvers in Seogwipo City before and during the festival, which will also feature a music concert, police said.
Their presence has further inflamed local residents. A group of 40 people set up tents to prevent police officers from entering the construction site yesterday, barring them from putting up notices bearing the court’s ruling. In the end, the protestors partially relented and allowed one to enter.
The Ministry of National Defense issued a statement yesterday demanding an end to the “outsider-led demonstrations.”
“We stress once again that this military-commercial joint venture is an important project not only for the national interest, but also to defend transport routes in the South Sea and for the development of Gangjeong Village [by boosting tourism there],” it read.
“The government urges these groups [from outside Jeju] to suspend their protests against the base as it is only deepening the rift between local residents [who are already torn over the issue].”
By Shin Jin-ho, Kim Hee-jin [email@example.com]