Anti-gov’t rally to be held today

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Anti-gov’t rally to be held today

Lawmakers from the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) and their leader, Moon Jae-in, announced plans on Friday to join a large rally in downtown Seoul to be held on Saturday, a follow-up to an anti-government demonstration last month that turned violent.

“The police prohibited the rally tomorrow, but a court decided that such a measure is illegal,” NPAD Chairman Moon said at a meeting of his party’s Supreme Council at the National Assembly. “The freedom to hold rallies is guaranteed in the constitution and is a natural right of the people.”

Over 10,000 people, including major labor and farmer organizations, are expected to attend the rally scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall.

A major farmers’ group, the Korean Peasants League, will simultaneously hold events to call for the recovery of farmer Baek Nam-gi, who was injured in the Nov. 14 rally in Gwanghwamun Square. From 5 p.m., the protesters will march toward Seoul National University Hospital, where Baek remains in a coma.

On Nov. 14, approximately 68,000 people from labor groups and organizations, including the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), gathered in Gwanghwamun to protest a grab bag of government policies, including labor market reforms and state authorship of school history textbooks.

One of the most violent clashes between police and protesters came when Baek, a 68-year-old farmer from South Jeolla, was knocked down by a water cannon and collapsed, losing consciousness before being taken to the hospital for a brain hemorrhage.

Local police initially dismissed a request made by the Korean Peasants League to hold a second rally on Saturday in Seoul Plaza, citing a domestic law that gives authorities the right to disapprove a rally that can potentially harm public safety.

But the Seoul Administrative Court on Thursday overturned the decision and ruled that there was no guarantee that “collective violence will happen.” It issued a suspension of the police prohibition.

Moon said the NPAD “will work with civil society and the religious sector to make sure the demonstration will be peaceful.

“The role of the government is not to block participation in rallies but to guarantee that the demonstration is peaceful,” Moon added. “This is the proper exercising of the authority vested in the government by the people.”

A group of civil organizations forming a pan-national committee on the denunciation of state violence and the recovery of Baek Nam-gi held a press conference at the Press Center in central Seoul on Friday to announce that they planned to hold a peaceful rally on Saturday.

“Many people will be curious if this will be a peaceful demonstration or not,” said Yeo Myeong-cheol, operations director of the Civil Society Organizations Network in Korea, one of the organizations involved. “To make clear what the demonstrators have to say, we will thoroughly remove violence and preemptively prevent physical collision.”

Choi Jong-jin, senior vice chairman of the KCTU, said, “At the rally on Nov. 14, everything we called for - including opposition to state-written history textbooks, exports of rice, compensation for street vendors and labor reforms - was covered up. Through this rally, we need to try hard to highlight our 11 requests.”

Organizers of the rally hope that 50,000 people will show up.

Police have been preparing to bolster security measures and crack down on any act of violence during the rally, including on people who wear face masks to prevent themselves from being identified later.

Han Sang-gyun, chairman of the KCTU, has been taking refuge at the Jogye Temple in central Seoul to escape police arrest for orchestrating the violent Nov. 14 rally.

“If KCTU Chairman Han has committed a violation of the constitution, he will have to be firmly punished,” NPAD floor spokesman Park Soo-hyun said. “When the second rally wraps up, he will have to surrender himself or make some sort of decision.”

Saenuri floor leader Won Yoo-chul said in his party’s meeting at the National Assembly on Friday that “there should be no tolerance allowed for ignoring governmental authority and endangering the people’s security.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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