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[Newsmaker] Seoul mayor vows to restrict ‘excessive’ rallies

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon on Tuesday vowed to restrict excessive protests that “threaten public good,” amid complaints over weekend rallies that have dominated Gwanghwamun Square for several months.


He also held politicians accountable for failing to contain the deep ideological division that has led to rallies by both supporters and opponents of the Moon Jae-in administration.

“The right to public assembly and demonstration is a very basic human right granted by the Constitution, but if it inconveniences residents and violates public good, that is too excessive,” Park said during a dinner meeting with reporters Tuesday, referring to what he called “rough and violent” protests.

Conservative civic groups opposing the Moon administration have held weekend rallies at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul for the past several months, triggering complaints about traffic disturbance and inconvenience to the general public.

Some 200 people led by a conservative pastor have also staged a sit-in at night in front of the presidential office, causing residents to complain about excessive noise at night.

“There are things we can restrict when it comes to disturbance that prevents people from sleeping comfortably,” he said. “I will come up with measures on reasonable restrictions to the assemblies, such as a revision of the Assembly and Demonstration Act.”

Park pinned the blame for the division on politicians.

“It is up to Yeouido (where the National Assembly is situated) -- how it adjusts conflicts and creates peace through dialogue and compromise -- (to solve) what is expressed through rough and, at times, violent rallies,” said Park, a liberal bloc presidential hopeful who is affiliated with the ruling Democratic Party.

His remarks come as he is gathering opinions from residents of neighborhoods near Gwanghwamun Square about his plans to restructure the area.

His initial plan, unveiled in January, to expand the square and reduce the current 10-lane boulevard to six lanes was put on hold amid strong opposition from residents, civic groups and the relevant ministry.

They oppose the project, saying it would disrupt the flow of traffic. Residents are also worried about the possibility of more rallies at an expanded square.

Halting the project in September, Park said he would draw up a final renovation plan after taking public opinion into consideration.

By Ock Hyun-ju (