- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2003

SEOUL (AP) — Firebombs lighted the sky last night as labor activists and students battled riot police in one of the most violent protests in years. Dozens of students and workers were injured, witnesses said.

Police hauled away dozens of workers and students with head wounds while protesters lobbed hundreds of homemade bombs, which exploded in flames.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, which organized the protest, said at least 43 workers were hospitalized, one of them unconscious. Police reported 16 officers injured, said the South Korean news agency Yonhap.

In one clash, hundreds of police cornered a score of students in an alley and pummeled them with plastic shields and batons. Television footage showed police stomping on protesters sprawled on the pavement.

As it grew dark, hundreds of students and workers regrouped in an eight-lane boulevard and its side alleys, chanting: “[President] Roh Moo-hyun, stop oppressing workers.”

The protesters, wearing caps and masks to avoid being identified by police, beat their pipes on the pavement in cadence, formed ranks and charged. Helmeted police packed the streets, fighting back with shields.

Smoke from the firebombs filled the streets bustling with Sunday shoppers. Traffic was backed up for hours.

The protest signaled a resurgence of labor unrest, which the government fears will drive away foreign investors. Firebombs, once a common tool of protest in South Korea, have been absent from Seoul streets for the past 11/2 years.

A crowd of protesters, estimated by police at 35,000 and by the labor confederation at 100,000, rallied in central Seoul earlier yesterday to protest lawsuits that managers have filed against union leaders accused of staging illegal strikes.

Several labor leaders have committed or attempted suicide in what the unions say is a protest against such lawsuits. In some cases, courts have seized part of the salaries of labor activists.

Because many of these lawsuits are coming from state utilities, activists see this trend as part of the government’s labor policy.

The government promised new legislation to make it harder for employers to sue labor unions for production losses and other financial damage caused by illegal strikes.


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