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Police press labor union over protests

South Korean police over the weekend escalated their pressure against one of the country’s umbrella labor unions, raiding the group’s office and seeking a lawsuit over the massive antigovernment rally on Nov. 14.

Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency on Saturday raided 12 offices of eight labor unions, including the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, as part of the probe into the large-scale protest held in central Seoul that injured tens of protesters and police. One protestor remains in critical condition.

Police officers seize evidence from the office of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions in Seoul on Saturday. Yonhap
Police officers seize evidence from the office of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions in Seoul on Saturday. Yonhap

The union officials are suspected of premeditating and leading the violent protest in the rally with plans to assault the police with metal pipes and break police equipment, according to police.

The police had confirmed that three cars from the KCTU’s office transported the attack items such as ladders, ropes and metal pipes to the protest site.

The police said they secured documents, computer drives and several items, including ladders, hammers and metal pipes, from the KCTU’s headquarters. They said they also seized a police walkie-talkie and helmet in the office.

The investigators said they would probe the seized items and look into if there were any conspirators or masterminds for the violent clash, they added.

The labor union resisted the search and seizure, claiming the police were attempting to water down the rising public criticism over the police’s excessive use of force after a 69-year-old farmer was seriously injured in the rally.

“When the police do not offer any apology to the protestor who is hovering between life and death because of the police’s water cannons, they are trying to avoid public criticism by suppressing the public,” said the KCTU. “The government will face strong costs.”

The labor union argued that publicizing the seized items is the government’s attempt to manipulate public opinion by making the organization appear to be a violent group. It claimed that hammers, ropes, walkie-talkies and other equipment were not used in the massive rally.

This is the first time the KCTU’s headquarters have been raided since it was established in 1995.

On Nov. 14, over 130,000 demonstrators from 53 labor unions and civic groups took to the streets against the government’s moves to adopt state-issued history textbooks and institute labor reform.

The rally turned violent as riot police armed with water cannons clashed with demonstrators holding metal pipes, leaving one protestor in a coma after he was hit by the water attack.

On Friday, the police also launched a task force to file a compensation lawsuit against the labor union for damages incurred in the demonstration, authorities said.

Last week, investigators arrested six protestors for aggressively destroying police equipment in the rally and assaulting police officers.

An arrest warrant was also issued for KTCU head Han Sang-gyun, who has taken shelter at the Jogye Temple in the capital to avoid arrest.

As the standoff has continued between the police and Han, the temple monks said they would intervene in the case upon Han’s request.

The temple’s conflict resolution committee will hold a discussion on how to help the two sides solve the confrontation, the temple said.

The committee was launched in 2010 as some protestors have tended to seek shelter in the temple to avoid arrest since the mid-2000s.

By Lee Hyun-jeong (rene@heraldcorp.com)

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