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Police break up anti-base protest

Military installs fence around Jeju naval site to resume construction


The military resumed construction of a controversial naval base on a southern island of Jeju Friday as police forcibly broke up months-long protest and detained dozens of protesters.

Construction of the naval base on the island’s southern coast facing the South China Sea has been suspended since June when protesters occupied the site, demanding the Navy cancel the plan they denounce for damaging the natural environment and threatening the regional peace.

The military launched the base construction project in January, saying the facility will help raise military mobility in the southern maritime operations and contribute to strengthening the national security.
Police push protesters away from a naval base construction site on Jeju Island, Friday, to enable the military to install a fence before resuming construction. (Yonhap News)
Police push protesters away from a naval base construction site on Jeju Island, Friday, to enable the military to install a fence before resuming construction. (Yonhap News)

Protesters, who are Jeju residents and progressive activists from outside, argue the site will eventually be used to accomodate U.S. troops.

Following the Jeju court’s ban on the obstruction of the base construction works, about 600 riot police were mobilized to the site early Friday and dispersed hundreds of protesters from the site near Gangjeong Village, Seogwipo, Jeju Special Self-Governing Province. The provincial government and the Navy had won an injunction with the Jeju district court last month.

At least 30 protesters were detained amid violent clashes. The Navy immediately set up metal fences around the site to block off protesters completely.

The main opposition Democratic Party immediately criticized the police and the local government, saying the issue should be solved peacefully.

“Police should not have used force to disperse protesters if they have any regard for their safety,” Lee Yong-sub, spokesman of the party, told a press briefing.

The police had no reason to rush in because the parliament is currently working on a peaceful solution to the standoff, he added: “Using force will only deepen conflicts and will not solve fundamental issues. Police should immediately release detained protesters.”

Protesters and villagers will hold a cultural event over the weekend to draw attention to their demand the base project be scrapped.

Ever since the Defense Ministry designated the village in June 2007 as the site for a strategic naval base with the approval of 87 villagers in a local vote, hundreds of other residents have tried to nullify the decision, claiming the earlier vote was illegal.

Once completed in 2014, the new base will be home to about 20 naval vessels and two 150,000-ton cruisers. According to the Defense Ministry, about 14 percent of the construction work has been completed.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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