Rallies exploit Seoul Plaza’s lax rules

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Rallies exploit Seoul Plaza’s lax rules

Seoul Plaza has recently become a prime location for progressive civic groups to gather after the Seoul city government eased the approval process for using the area.

On Wednesday afternoon, eight pup tents were erected on the east side of the plaza where a group of university students were observed - some of them were working on their laptops while others worked on rally materials such as placards and signs. Around the tents, gas burners, pots and gas generators for cooking noodles were in use.

“We’ve decided to bring the ‘Occupy’ rally series to Seoul Plaza,” a 26-year-old university student told the JoongAng Ilbo. “We wanted to appeal to more people so we can speak out against those greedy people working in finance.”

The Occupy Yeouido rally, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, was started in mid-October by a group of university student councils from Sogang University and Kyunghee University, as well as by civic groups. It was moved to Seoul Plaza on Mar. 1.

The students said that they are planning a large-scale rally to criticize the central government’s poor handling of unemployment problems by covering the place with 330 tents and hundreds of students and civic group protesters. The students notified the city government that they will be using the plaza for the rally until April 11, the day of the general elections.

Directly after winning the by-election on Oct. 26, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon declared that he will permit citizens to hold any type of rally by only submitting simple information - a schedule and title for the rally - to the city government.

“As the mayor of Seoul, I declare that the Seoul Plaza is now returned to the citizens completely,” Park said in October.

Before October, every rally organizer had to first receive authorization from the city government to hold a rally, enabling the city government to control or prevent any potentially violent rallies.

“The plaza will be fully occupied by participants instead of citizens,” a spokesman at the Seoul Metropolitan Police told the JoongAng Ilbo. “The protesters, especially those who set up tents in the plaza, might infringe on citizens because they defile the appearance of the street and also produce sanitary problems.”

The police said that it has notified the students that they will not allow the tent rally, but told the JoongAng Ilbo that they can’t forcefully disperse the rally participants because the city government has approved the rally and the plaza land is owned by the Seoul government.

By Kim Min-sang, Kwon Sang-soo [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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