Police withdraw after stand-off with protestors

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Police withdraw after stand-off with protestors

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Jongno Police Precinct chief Hong Wan-seon, center, tells reporters that police will not use force to carry out the autopsy warrant on Sunday in front of the Seoul National University Hospital in Jongno District, central Seoul, after three hours of confrontation with civic activists who oppose the planned autopsy of Baek Nam-gi, a farmer activist who died on Sept. 25, after a 300-day coma that began when he was hit by a police water cannon at an antigovernment rally on Nov. 24 last year. [NEWSIS]

Police withdrew on Sunday after three hours of confrontation with civic activists who oppose the planned autopsy of Baek Nam-gi, a farmer activist who died on Sept. 25 after a 317-day coma that began when he was hit by a police water cannon while at an antigovernment rally on Nov. 24 last year.

The Jongno Police Precinct dispatched nearly 800 officers to Seoul National University Hospital, where Baek’s body is preserved, at around 10:10 a.m. on Sunday in an attempt to carry out the autopsy warrant, which is fiercely opposed by his surviving family.

Immediately after he passed away last month, police announced a plan to conduct an autopsy to verify the cause of death.

A local court struck down an initial request but later issued a warrant, though it still required consultation with the victim’s family as to how, when, where and by whom the autopsy is to be conducted.

A dispute over Baek’s cause of death began when Dr. Paek Sun-ha, professor of the Department of Neurosurgery at the Seoul National University College of Medicine and Seoul National University Hospital, pronounced earlier this month that Baek died of cardiopulmonary arrest and said it was a natural death.

The victim’s family demanded that the hospital change the death certificate, stressing that there should be no doubt that police are to blame for the lethal use of the water canon. They have refused to meet with police for the necessary consultation.

The police moved to bring Baek’s body to the autopsy table as the court’s warrant will expire tomorrow. Facing nearly 400 protestors and opposition lawmakers, including Rep. Park Ju-min of the Minjoo Party, police decided to retreat.

“If the bereaved refuses (the autopsy), we will not use force to carry out the warrant today,” said Jongno Police Precinct chief Hong Wan-seon before reporters.

“Why would I want to meet with police, who are preventing us from even arranging a funeral for my father,” asked Baek Doraji, a daughter of the late farmer, before reporters at the hospital, “We will not respond (to the demand for an autopsy) under any circumstances.”

The warrant’s validity is due to expire tomorrow, which means it is highly unlikely they will be unable to carry out the autopsy at this time.

BY KANG JIN-KYU, LEE HYUN-TAEK [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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