- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 7, 2009

SEOUL

Opposition lawmakers ended their violent, 12-day siege of South Korea’s parliament Tuesday after successfully delaying a key vote on a U.S. free trade deal and other legislation.

Democratic Party legislators had occupied the National Assembly since Dec. 26, fending off security guards who tried to drag them out by force last week in scuffles that left nearly 100 people with minor injuries.

The main opposition party ended its sit-in after the parliament speaker assured it the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) had abandoned its bid to ram through the bills before the next U.S. president takes office. Hours later, the rival parties announced a compromise: to postpone a ratification vote until after President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

With the GNP holding 172 of 299 seats in the National Assembly, the accord is virtually assured of ratification if it reaches the floor for a vote. But President Lee Myung-bak had wanted a quick vote because Mr. Obama has hinted he would seek to renegotiate the pact.

South Korea and the U.S. agreed to the landmark accord in 2007 to slash tariffs and other barriers to trade. The countries’ legislatures, however, failed to ratify the deal because their farmers and labor groups opposed it.

The deal would be the largest for the U.S. since the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect more than a decade ago.

South Korean opponents say the pact does not protect farmers, laborers and others who will be affected by a surge of imports from the U.S. Delaying the vote gives the rival parties time to come up with a compromise.

But Kim Jong-hyun of the opposition Democratic Party said the two sides agreed that the pact will eventually be put to a vote even if the parties fail to reach a compromise.

The deal to buy time ends weeks of deadlock that flared when the GNP unilaterally introduced the trade pact at a parliamentary committee meeting last month and tried to keep opposition out of the room by blocking the doors.

Enraged opposition members used sledgehammers and other construction tools to break in, while GNP members fought back with fire extinguishers.

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