End the violence

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End the violence

Video footage of the extremely violent protests in downtown Seoul last weekend went viral on the Internet. The video shot in Gwanghwamun Plaza by a twenty-something who served as a riot policeman during the tumultuous anti-government protests over mad cow disease in 2008 vividly captured rampant violence by demonstrators. In the 4-minute, 48-second clip, protesters are seen smashing a barricade of police buses with steel pipes and ladders and even attacking policemen on the roofs of the buses. They assaulted the police with slingshots and looked for inflammable liquids. Some of them hurled despicable insults at young conscripted policemen on the frontline, shouting “I am as old as your father!” to avert their counterattacks.

Do they really deserve the respect they so ardently demand? We are dumbfounded at their attempt to find fault with the police’s “overreaction” even after turning the place into a state of anarchy. The ferocious protest left 113 policemen injured and 50 police buses destroyed or severely damaged.

After the protests, Han Sang-gyun, leader of the Korean Confederation of Trade Union, the country’s largest umbrella union group, has been hiding in Jogyesa Temple, the headquarters of the Jogye Order, Korea’s largest Buddhist sect, to escape police arrest. A court already issued an arrest warrant for him on charges of organizing illegitimate demonstrations by the union in April and May. But he refused to comply with the prosecution’s summons or appear in court. He took refuge in the Buddhist temple after making seditious remarks like, “We will show our power to paralyze the whole nation.” He asked senior members of the union to request the temple to protect him.

The Jogyesa temple should reconsider its decision to offer him refuge. Korea is no longer in the age when religious facilities served as refuges for democracy activists, as in the authoritarian days three decades ago. Critics of the Park Geun-hye government attack it for “a return to dictatorship.” But Han cannot be categorized as a democracy fighter. He is a shameless, irresponsible and aristocratic labor leader who chose to flee from his “battleground” after nonchalantly instructing his followers to march toward the Blue House. Do Buddhist circles need such a troublemaker? The opposition, too, must not turn a blind eye to the unfettered spree of violence.

As the prime minister said yesterday, the government must not allow such outmoded protests any more. The government must hold accountable those responsible for violence or infringing on others’ rights to pursue happiness. The government must bring Han and his followers to justice no matter what.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 18, Page 34

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