On Saturday an estimated 60,000 and 130,000 South Koreans took to the streets of Seoul to protest the policies of president Park Geun-hye.
Reuters reports that 51 people were detained, while dozens were hosed with irritant-laced water during the rally.
Labour, civic and farmers’ groups organised the demonstration to protest the president’s new labour and education reform.
The groups believe that these reforms make it easier for large conglomerates to lay off workers and require schools to adopt a state-approved history textbook by 2017.
Protesters feared that textbooks would try to revise the history of Park Chung-hee’s reign as the country’s military dictator from 1962 to 1979. The rule of Park Chung-hee, who is Park Guen-hye’s father, ended after he was assassinated by the head of his own central intelligence agency after vowing to crush protests against his government “even if to cost 30,000 lives.”
Park Guen-hye’s Justice Minister Kim Hyun-woong said of the latest protests, “These activities were a grave challenge to law and order and public authority, and they will not be tolerated,” according to Reuters.
“The government was fully prepared to guarantee a lawful and peaceful rally, but some people came prepared with illegal equipment such as steel pipes and conducted a violent protest,” Kim continued.
But footage from the protests shows an unarmed farmer being bowled over by a powerful blast from a police hose. He then suffered a stroke and had to be rushed to the hospital, according to Bloomberg, which reported that 500 protesters were injured. Police officials told Reuters that only 10 people were hurt during the demonstration.
According to a post on Reddit, police parked cars to block off the protesters, and oiled the vehicles so that they would be difficult for demonstrators to topple.
Protesters then tied ropes to the vehicles and attempted to drag them away, according to the post.
The demonstration, the largest in South Korea since 2008, “was led by some of the most organised elements — labour, farm, anti-poverty activists, which was a little different from when there was more public participation,” political commentator Yu Chang-seon told Reuters.
These groups include the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, whose president, Han Sang-gyun, has been formally accused of organising other illegal rallies, according to Reuters. There are more demonstrations planned for December 5.
Despite the protests, polling indicates that Park’s party is not in jeopardy of losing power in parliamentary elections scheduled for this April.
According to Reuters, Park’s Saenuri Party registered 39% support in a recent Gallup survey, while the largest opposition party, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, polled at 22%.
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