Korail strike leaders leave refuges and surrender

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Korail strike leaders leave refuges and surrender

Union leaders facing arrest for leading last month’s railway strike turned themselves in to police yesterday for questioning, surrendering after hours of scuffles between union supporters and police in central Seoul.

Kim Myung-hwan, head of the state-run railway operator’s union, said the voluntary surrender was intended to “express union members’ willingness to shoulder the burden caused by the dispute between management and the union.”

Kim also said during a press conference yesterday morning that the leaders will justify the strike in court before his surrender at the headquarters of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, where he was in hiding for about a month.

After the surrender of the 13 wanted men, including Kim, no union fugitives remain at large. The men had been taking refuge at relatively secure locations such as the KCTU and Democratic Party headquarters, and Jogye Temple.

Other leaders surrendering yesterday included Park Tae-man, deputy director of the railway workers’ union, who has been at Jogye Temple in central Seoul since Christmas Eve.

The union called a strike last month following Korea Railway Corporation’s decision to form a separate subsidiary to run a new bullet train service linking Suseo-dong in southern Seoul with Busan.

The union saw the move as a stealthy step toward the privatization of Korail, which the government denied.

They ended the 22-day strike, the longest rail walkout in the nation’s history, after ruling and opposition parties reached a deal to form a parliamentary subcommittee dedicated to discussing pressing issues in the railway company.

Despite the strike’s end, law enforcement agencies vowed to discipline over 1,000 union members for being involved in what they dubbed an illegal strike.

Yesterday’s surrender did not go smoothly. The leaders were scheduled to turn themselves in before noon, but they refused to do so after finding police officers waiting to arrest them when they came out of their places of refuge. The leaders demanded that the officers be withdrawn so that they could surrender voluntarily.

The police maintained that they would arrest the fugitives first.

Following physical clashes that lasted for six hours in several sites, but most particularly at the KCTU headquarters, two Democratic Party members mediated and the 13 leaders were allowed to enter the police cars without being forcibly arrested.

A court issued arrest warrants for a total of 35 union leaders, and the other 22 have been arrested or appeared voluntarily for investigation.

None are currently being detained, including the 13 arrested yesterday.

Tensions still remain over the core issue: Korail’s new subsidiary and concerns about privatization. Opposition representatives suggested that the subcommittee should come up with legislative measures prohibiting the privatization of the state-run railway operator.

The ruling Saenuri Party asserted once again that the government has no intention of privatizing Korail.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]
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