Go to contents

Clash Betweeen Police and Protesters Kills Six

Posted January. 21, 2009 08:01,   


Six people were killed yesterday in a violent clash between police and demonstrators staging a sit-in protest against an urban redevelopment project in Seoul.

The incident occurred at a five-story building in the Yongsan district. The victims were five protesters and Kim Nam-hoon, a sergeant from an elite police unit. Twenty-three others were wounded.

The incident is the worst police clash since the “Dongui University disaster” in May 1989, which killed seven policemen and left 11 injured. Back then, riot guards sought to disband student demonstrators staging a sit-in at a building in the university.

Police are investigating 25 demonstrators arrested at the scene to figure out how the incident happened. The bodies were sent to the National Institute for Scientific Investigation for identification.

Commandos were mobilized at 6:45 am to disband some 30 members of the Committee of Residents Forced Out of Yongsan District 4 in Seoul and the National Coalition of Forcefully Relocated People. They had been staging a sit-in there since Monday.

When the commandos approached a makeshift watchtower built with three containers around 7:10 am, demonstrators countered by throwing paint thinner and Molotov cocktails. Fire broke out on the first floor of the watchtower. The fire was extinguished at 8 a.m. but not before killing six people.

A police officer said, “We decided to disband the demonstrators early on because we didn’t want they to inconvenience citizens through illicit activities, like throwing Molotov cocktails throughout the day, in a central part of the city.”

“The mobilization of commandos was approved by National Police Agency Commissioner General-designate Kim Seok-ki at the request of Yongsan Police Station chief Baek Dong-seon.

The coalition and other civic groups, however, blamed the incident on the use of excessive force, including the mobilization of containers, cranes and commandos, demanding punishment of those responsible.

Seoul prosecutors have formed a task force to investigate. They called in 25 arrested people as well as policemen and are probing how the fire broke out, the situation during the operation, and who must be held responsible.

alwaysj@donga.com myzodan@donga.com