Park lashes out at Seoul protests

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Park lashes out at Seoul protests

President Park Geun-hye said people should not be allowed to wear face masks to conceal their identities during street protests, in what was seen as a strong stance against illegal and violent demonstrations against her government.

During a Cabinet meeting at the Blue House on Tuesday, Park criticized a large anti-government rally on Nov. 14 in central Seoul that turned violent. In a strong tone, she said the government “should not allow protestors with masks” and likened them to terrorists of the Islamic State.

“The violent, illegal protests disregard the rule of law and are an attempt to render the government powerless,” Park said.

She went on to say that members of terrorist organizations from overseas could mingle with the protestors to pose a threat to national security.

The demonstrators in Gwanghwamun Square on Nov. 14 were protesting a grab-bag of domestic issues, including the Park government’s plan to write history textbooks.

During the Nov. 14 rally, which police say was attended by 68,000 people, some protestors with metal pipes attacked buses used as barricades to prevent people from marching toward the Blue House. One 68-year-old farmer was critically injured when he was hit in the head by a water cannon during the protest. An image of the man on the ground after being hit and dragged away by rally members went viral online. Images of protestors swinging metal pipes at buses and policemen prompted criticism, too.

At the Tuesday Cabinet meeting, Park also expressed opposition to a second rally to be held on Dec. 5 by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), whose leader is now taking refuge at the Jogye Temple in central Seoul to avoid being arrested for the Nov. 14 rally. Park said the group’s leader had fled to the temple to “prepare for the second illegal assembly while ridiculing authorities.”

Her strong words have raised speculation that the police may deny the union’s request to hold the Dec. 5 rally. National Police Agency Commissioner Kang Sin-myeong said on Tuesday the police would have to disallow the Dec. 5 rally if it deems it an illegal protest.

If the police prohibit the rally, it is expected to spark a backlash over what could be seen as a government clampdown on freedom of assembly.

The Jogye Temple, which is harboring Han Sang-kyun, head of the KCTU, said on Tuesday that it would act as a mediator among the government, police and the KCTU in order for the Dec. 5 rally to be held peacefully.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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