Seoul Plaza isn’t just for protests

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Seoul Plaza isn’t just for protests

After a surprise win in the October by-elections as an independent civilian candidate, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon promised to reserve the 13,183-square-meter plaza in front of the city hall for citizens all year round.

“The space should not require approval from anyone. It is open to anyone for any expression,” he said, upholding the opposition-dominated city council’s revision of the related rule to forsake prior approval for rallies and congregations at the downtown public space.

His conservative predecessor Oh Se-hoon filed a suit at the Supreme Court against the revision, demanding that the use of public space and properties including roads should require administrative approval, as unrestricted access could damage public properties protected by higher state law. Park, however, called off the administrative suit after taking office.

But Park’s new Seoul administration recently sent a warning to student protesters camped outside the city hall. In a letter sent to the university student alliance on Monday that has been staging an encampment protest modeled after the global “Occupy” movement, the city warned against drinking and smoking in the area where such behavior is prohibited, and urged them to abide by order and law.

It also ordered an eviction to the group demonstrating against Ssangyong Motor’s layoffs that refused to leave the area even though their registered rally period ended on Thursday. The Seoul city administration has finally decided that it can no longer tolerate the central plaza turning into mayhem after dark.

The student group rallying for cuts in tuition fees has applied for encampment at the eastern corner of the plaza for 41 days until April 10, a day prior to the legislative elections. Until then, their tents dominate a large space in the plaza. Other demonstrators who have not even registered for rallies use the plaza, causing disorder, hygiene problems and the disruption of citizens and nearby businesses including the hotels.

Park must more or less feel responsible for giving protesters license to cause a mess and disorder in the public space. He must take firmer action and modify regulations.

Some citizens are already demanding that one certain group should not dominate the area for a long period of time. It is best to first shorten the amount of time that protesters can use the plaza for; currently, it is over 50 days. The Seoul Plaza should be a space for all citizens, not just for protesters.
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