Authorities brace for mass demonstration

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Authorities brace for mass demonstration

As Korea’s largest umbrella labor union geared up for a massive rally this weekend in downtown Seoul, the National Police Agency (NPA) vowed on Friday to take every possible measure to block some tens of thousands of protesters from potentially storming the Blue House.

Local police predict that approximately 80,000 people, mostly from the 53 left-wing groups in connection with the umbrella organization, will take part in the Saturday demonstration, slated to start at 2:30 p.m. near City Hall in central Seoul.

Organized by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the rally is expected to be the largest since 2008, when some 200,000 people nationwide took to the streets each day for over a month in a bid to ban U.S. beef imports.

The KCTU has claimed that 150,000 people will take part in Saturday’s protest to demand the government retract the decision to reintroduce state-authored history textbooks, launch another more thorough investigation into last year’s Sewol ferry tragedy and solve youth unemployment, among other points.

“The chances are high that protesters will attempt to march into the Blue House,” a source from the National Police Agency said. “The police will install vehicle barricades [near rally venues] and dispatch additional personnel to help passersby get through.”

Specially deployed guides will wear green fluorescent vests with “Passage Guide” written in Korean on the front. Nearly 100 people will be assigned to that task alone, while some 20,000 additional police forces will be on hand if the situation escalates or becomes violent.

Approximately 150 officers will help guide traffic at 12 universities that plan to hold exams and interviews as part of their college admissions process.

The demonstration is expected to affect all areas near Seoul Plaza, Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul Station, Sungnyemun Gate, the Plaza hotel and Deoksu Palace, mostly in Jung District.

“If you look at their website, you can tell their main goal is to reach the Blue House,” NPA Commissioner General Kang Sin-myeong said Thursday during a press conference. “On principle, we will arrest anyone who assaults a police officer or tries to damage police equipment. If we fail to apprehend the person on site, we will hold them legally accountable at all costs later.”

The KCTU said in a statement on Friday that President Park Geun-hye had “ignored” its call for discussions, which went against democratic principles.

It added that the demonstration would not veer out of downtown Seoul and that it would act “peacefully” and in accordance with the law.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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