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Opposition boycotts parliament, plans outdoor protests

Political paralysis gripped the nation Wednesday, with liberal opposition parties planning an all-out campaign against the conservatives who rammed through the contentious Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in a snap parliamentary session.

The deepened partisan standoff is likely to delay the parliamentary handling of next year’s budget, confirmation of two Supreme Court justices and scores of other pending bills.

The Democratic Party and other liberal opposition parties started a boycott of all parliamentary sessions in protest against the ratification of the FTA by ruling party legislators Tuesday.

“What we saw yesterday is the death of democracy in Korea,” DP chairman Rep. Sohn Hak-kyu said in a meeting of party leaders. “We will hold large outdoor rallies, possibly this weekend, together with other opposition parties and civic groups.” 
Opposition lawmakers hold a rally at the National Assembly on Wednesday to protest the ruling party’s railroading of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement the previous day. (Yonhap News)
Opposition lawmakers hold a rally at the National Assembly on Wednesday to protest the ruling party’s railroading of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement the previous day. (Yonhap News)

The ruling Grand National Party had caught opposition parties off-guard Tuesday afternoon, calling a snap full-house vote on the pact.

The Korea-U.S. FTA, the country’s largest trade deal ever, was ratified by a 151-7 vote. Outnumbered opposition members abstained en masse, crying foul. A member of the far-left minority Democratic Labor Party set off a teargas canister inside the parliamentary chamber in a failed bid to stop the vote.

“We will fight to the end to have the ratification annulled and discard toxic clauses through renegotiations, such as those on the investor-state disputes settlement mechanism,” DP whip Kim Jin-pyo said.

The FTA issue is uniting the country’s center-left and far-left forces against conservatives ahead of major elections next year.

Leaders of the DP and four smaller liberal groups held a meeting Wednesday to coordinate their response, while about 40 of their legislators staged a joint rally in front of the main Assembly chamber.

The GNP, in contrast, was lying low, fearing a possible public backlash.

“We will do our best to implement supportive measures for farmers, small- and medium-sized firms and others who may face hardship once the FTA takes effect,” said Rep. Kim Ki-kyun, the party’s spokesperson. He added that the party will consult with the government about the renegotiation on the controversial investor-state dispute settlement system, following up on President Lee Myung-bak’s promise earlier in the month.

Lee, trying to persuade opposition leaders, proposed that he would push to open talks with the U.S. on the ISD clauses, once parliamentarians first ratifies the deal. The DP had rejected the offer, demanding Lee to back up his word with a written agreement between two governments about the renegotiations.

The Presidential Office of Cheong Wa Dae on Tuesday said Lee’s offer was still valid and that he would propose talks to the U.S.

By Lee Sun-young (milaya@heraldcorp.com)
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