20,000 South Koreans take to the streets to protest APEC

Sunday, November 13, 2005

20,000 labour activists in South Korea joined a union-organised protest in the streets of downtown Seoul on Sunday to express opposition to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum currently underway in the southeastern port city of Busan.

The APEC summit of Pacific Rim leaders will include US President George W. Bush. The two-day APEC summit, expected to bring together 21 regional leaders, opens officially on November 18 in the South Korean port city of Busan. The APEC agenda includes discussions on how to enhance global free trade.

Protesters' placards declared "No Bush visit" and "No APEC", demanding a revision of domestic labour laws to improve conditions for temporary workers. Police lined the protest route, using buses to block streets as protesters marched close to the US embassy and the presidential Blue House. City police officials said there were no reports of violence.

The rally was organised by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the second-largest labour organisation in South Korea.

"APEC is playing the vanguard role of spreading new liberalism in trade which makes the rich richer and the poor poorer," said O Jong-Ryul, head of the People's Action against APEC — another of the protest organising groups. The activists said APEC had become a tool for US multinationals seeking to expand their dominance in the world market "under the pretext of trade liberalization."

The rally was held after the death of a South Korean farmer, who allegedly committed suicide on Friday morning to protest the free trade and opening of the South Korean agricultural market.

The rally cut off downtown traffic and caused severe congestion. No serious crashes were reported.

More protests expected

Some 80 protest leaders said they would organize regular street rallies throughout the week of APEC meetings. The KCTU intend to hold another rally in Busan on Thursday, in opposition to further trade liberalization and investment regulations.

Activists hope to bring 100,000 protestors into the streets to oppose the summit. They call on the government to provide all citizens with access to free medical care and education and to address the problem ofincreasing South Korean wealth disparity.

"We will fight aggressively at the national rally on November 18 against the Busan APEC Summit and open Busan International People Forum by gathering all Korean progressives including workers, farmers and students," said a KCTU spokesperson.

Busan police said the rally would not disturb the meeting. "The police will also increase the number of personnel from some 7,000 to 22,000 and station more armored cars to prevent any violent protests," an official said.

A spokesman for the port city of Busan, Steve Tang, said 37,000 officers from South Korea's national intelligence service, police, military, fire service, coast guard and customs were on high alert for APEC.

The National Police Agency has banned nearly 1000 foreign activists from entering the country before the APEC summit, and is closely monitoring 350 activists. Further measures include a no-fly and no-vessel zone within a 7km radius of the APEC venue retreat.

The city's police, have been on emergency duty since October 19.