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[Opinion] Tear Bomb

Posted June. 06, 2003 22:23,   


By the end of the 1990s, those who participated or passed by places where massive street rallies were held may have suffered from a painful experience of tear gases shot by the police. Tear bombs, chemical agent, which causes coughing and breathing difficulties by stimulating lachrymal glands and respiratory mucosa, were first developed during the First World War. The ‘chemical agent’ later evolved into today’s tear bomb with upgraded functions and has been used as a means to crack down on street protesters and rioters. During the massive rally criticizing the May 15 vote-rigging incident in 1960, Koreans had a horrible memory that citizens found a protester whose eyes were studded with tear bombs, which later further infuriated students and citizens, leading to nationwide protests.

During the authoritarian rules in Korea, tear bombs were a symbol of buttressing the authoritarian regimes. Tear bombs were used to crack down on street rallies and rafting smell of tear gases made citizens` passage on streets difficult. Even, tear gases marred the image of Korea at that time and some foreigners said they felt a smell of tear gas first when they arrived at Korea. Frequent usages of tear bombs by Korean police were demonstrated by the fact that an owner of a company producing tear bombs was put at higher rankings in terms of paying income tax.

There was a phrase regarding tear bombs: No tear bombs. No stones. This means if the police dispatched to protest scenes don’t use tear bombs, protesters will not throw stones and fire-bottles at the police. Meanwhile, the police also argued that if students give up stones and firebombs first, they will not use tear bombs. At first, the two sides seemed to keep their promises. But, with protests accelerating, always their promises got nowhere. As for many Koreans, these ugly scenes are often popped up regarding the memory of tear bombs.

However, the police stopped using tear bombs during the Kim Dae-jung government. In September 1998, the government announced the police would not use tear bombs any more and dispatched policewomen at protest scenes, taking a softened gesture of calming angry protesters. Since then, the government tried to create a peaceful demonstration culture in Korea. A total of 600,000 tear bombs possessed by the police became useless because of not using them over a long period and most of tear bomb producers went bankrupt. However, the Roh Moo-hyun government is now considering using tear bombs to scatter protesters as the government came under harsh criticisms for taking lukewarm actions towards aggressive and illegal protesters. And Koreans are showing a mixed response to the government’s consideration. Some say that the government’ move seems to return to the authoritarian past, whereas others say that it is unavoidable for the government to decide to use tear bombs again to exercise public power effectively. Which side are you taking with?