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Candlelight Vigils Pose Problems

Posted May. 06, 2008 05:30,   


Candlelight vigils, defined as illegal by the police, are scheduled to be held this evening in two venues downtown Seoul following the weekend, in opposition to the resumption of U.S. beef imports.

Since the events were registered as cultural ones, the police decided to allow them. However, it made clear that it will issue warnings and prosecute organizers afterwards if the events evolve into political gatherings with agitating slogans. However, the police seem to be troubled by the fact that there is no specific countermeasure for such incidents.

▽ Candlelight vigils in two venues

Han Jin-hee, head of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, said on Monday, “Even if the events turn into political gatherings, the safety of the participants including young students prevent us from forcefully dispersing the crowd.”

All the police can do now is to warn the participants and take pictures or videos of the scene to pick out the ringleaders afterwards.

Many of the participants in the recent candlelight vigils held over the weekend got in touch with each other on the Web, which made it difficult for the police to figure out the organizers as so many parties were involved.

The police announced that candlelight vigils will be regarded as political gatherings if political messages or slogans are involved, despite the fact that few precedents and regulations offer a clear-cut distinction between cultural events and political rallies.

Michincow.net (crazy cow), an online gathering of people against the resumption of U.S. beef imports and the alliance for the impeachment of President Lee Myung-bak are scheduled to hold candlelight vigils this evening respectively in Cheonggye Square and in front of the National Assembly building.

Around 1,000 organizations including the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement is expected to launch an emergency meeting against the import of U.S. beef that may be infected with mad cow disease in Korea Press Center in Seoul at 2 p.m. this afternoon.

▽ Opposition crossed the line

Meanwhile, many have raised concerns that the participation of middle and high school students in the protest against U.S. beef imports has simply gone too far.

It has recently been confirmed that a text message urging students nationwide not to attend school on May 17 in protest of U.S. beef imports has been sent by a person nicknamed “angel.”

A worried housewife in Incheon whose child attends a high school said, “Some students even talk about making the candlelight vigil an event comparable to the April 19 Revolution.

Some celebrities popular among teenagers and their fan clubs have contributed to further fueling the opposition against U.S. beef imports.

An actress who wrote on her personal homepage that she would rather eat poison than U.S. beef has been positively described as “politically conscious” among teenagers.

A high school student said, “When I look at the online comments of my friends who participated in the demonstration, they seem to be proud of the fact that they have contributed (to the movement) even though they are just students.”

Psychology professor Hwang Sang-min of Yonsei University said, “Just as some teenage fans feel as if they themselves are celebrities when they follow them around, they feel like they are equal to intellectuals or heroes in these demonstrations.”

Journalism professor Ahn Dong-geun of Hanyang University equally showed concerns over these teenagers, saying, “They passively receive groundless facts on the Web, which feed on anonymity, without rationally thinking over the information. It seems like they are swept away by mob psychology out of impulse.”