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Farmers Hold Surprise Protests, Barricading Bridges over the Han River.

Farmers Hold Surprise Protests, Barricading Bridges over the Han River.

Posted December. 20, 2004 23:07,   


Protesting the government’s decision to open its rice market to rice exporters, thousands of farmers across the country launched street demonstrations in the Seoul area after occupying several downtown areas, including bridges over the Han River, on Monday.

Due to the protests, traffic on roads leading to those bridges has been blocked, causing serious traffic jams in several places in Seoul. Police walked off those involved in the protest.

One thousand nine hundred farmers from the Korea Peasants League (KPL) tried to use highways to advance into Seoul, driving 1,400 vehicles on Monday morning.

In the process, the police stopped 1,130 vehicles and 1,320 peasants from going into the nation’s capital, with only 580 farmers succeeding to enter Seoul and joining the protest by bringing in 300 vehicles.

At 11:00 a.m., 50 protestors blocked four northbound lanes out of six on south end of the Cheonho Bridge with 19 vehicles. Also, another 100 occupied roads on the Jamsil Bridge going in the downtown direction, and ones running both ways on the Seongsu Bridge, using 50 vehicles.

Some farmers barricaded roads connecting the Mapo Bridge with the Gongdeok traffic circle in the direction of Ahyeon-dong with 10 vehicles, staging a one-hour protest. At noon, farmers staged a separate demonstration by parking 20 vehicles in the fifth lane and the entrance ramp of the Gyeongbu Expressway’s Seoul-bound Yangjae interchange.

KPL members also carried out a rally with 50 to 100 vehicles in Sogang University and on the Seongsan Bridge, bringing traffic in those areas to a standstill.

Around three in the afternoon, four KPL members climbed to the top of the Dongnimmun gate in Seodaemun-gu, Seoul and staged a so-called “high altitude protest,” holding up a placard that read, “Abolish the Rice Market Opening!” Police arrested all of them one hour after they started their demonstration.

Those farmers were supposed to hold pre-campaign meetings at four spots throughout Seoul, including the square at the Yongsan Station, and to assemble in Yeouido afterwards. However, facing police blockages, they called off the plan and held out against the police in 10 places in downtown Seoul until late afternoon.

The rice-cultivating farmers argued, “We cannot accept the government’s negotiations with rice exporting nations which will lead the nation’s agriculture into deeper agony. The government should renegotiate the matter for national benefit instead of hastily concluding the negotiations within this year.” At a press conference on Monday afternoon, the KPL said, “We demand a talk between representatives of farmers and the government. Until our demands are accepted, 100 members of farmers’ committees will go on a sit-in in front of Cheong Wa Dae.”

The police arrested 400 farmers throughout downtown Seoul around 5:00 on Monday afternoon and seized 240 illegal protest supplies such as bottles of paint thinner and steel pipes.

The police also ran a total of 73 checkpoints to control traffic, and stationed its officers at major highway exchanges including the Namhae Freeway in the early morning in order to deter the entrance of vehicles that would participate in the demonstration.

Therefore, those who could not advance to the highways held sporadic rallies at several venues and voluntarily broke up them in the late afternoon.

The police decided to tow vehicles belonging to the farmers taken to police stations and to take legal action against those who participated in the protest by applying relative articles in the Road Traffic Law and the Assembly and Demonstration Law. In addition, when issuing protestor violations based on traffic regulations, the police are considering taking measures such as suspending their licenses.

Jae-Dong Yu jarrett@donga.com