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[Editorial] The Damage of Illegal Street Protests

Posted May. 04, 2009 07:56,   


Militant protesters who led illegal and violent demonstrations against the resumption of U.S. beef imports last year have taken to the streets once again. Leftist groups led by a “candlelight” civic coalition launched April 18 staged illegal protests in many parts of Seoul Saturday after holding an unauthorized assembly to celebrate the first anniversary of last year’s demonstrations. The day before, masked protesters who participated in the Labor Day assembly occupied the streets and detained a police officer while throwing broken pieces of concrete pavement blocks at police.

The lead protesters showed their intention to reproduce last year’s demonstrations that caused a state of lawlessness for more than three months from May. Slogans demanding the resignation of President Lee Myung-bak and condemning his administration for being a dictatorship were frequently heard at the protest sites.

The civic coalition’s founding declaration said, “We will exercise the right to free resistance as guaranteed by the Constitution against the dictatorship of the incumbent administration in the spirit of candlelight vigils. We declare May 2 the day of candlelight action and the day of judgment for the Lee Myung-bak administration.” The organizing committee of the Korean Alliance that led Labor Day protests demanded a stop to unilateral restructuring and layoffs under the pretext of addressing economic crisis, suspend efforts to ratify the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, withdraw Korea’s plans to join the Proliferation Security Initiative, and implement the declarations from the 2000 and 2007 inter-Korean summits. These claims show what militant leftist groups ultimately have in mind. They have no clear sense of reality in making the first demand since the intensity of Korea’s restructuring in the aftermath of the global economic crisis is markedly lower than that of its rivals.

The “spirit of candlelight vigil” promoted by these groups is an attempt to overturn an administration democratically elected by the people. The groups also did not hesitate to stir up the public with distorted and exaggerated information. In a country where police, a symbol of law enforcement, are frequently assaulted by illegal street protesters who defy the principles of representative democracy and rule of law, leftist groups have no rationale for condemning the incumbent administration for dictatorship. They also direct blame for inter-Korean military tension towards the South Korean government while North Korea’s military threat grows by the day. Against this backdrop, one easily grows wary of these groups’ intentions.

The protesters also cry out for better welfare and economy in words, but their violent and illegal actions have much more devastating effects on the people and the economy. The Seoul city government estimated direct damage worth 375 million won (300,000 U.S. dollars) caused by illegal protesters who sabotaged the Hi Seoul Festival Saturday. The figure does not include indirect damage such as leaving a bad impression on foreign visitors.

Protesters frequently resorted to violence in masks to leave no photographic evidence. Therefore, the National Assembly should approve a bill to ban mask-wearing at protest sites as soon as possible. Instead of making the same mistake as last year, the government should respond to illegal protests according to laws and principles. The vicious cycle of violent protests can only be broken after the Korean government and society take decisive measures against groups that challenge the rule of law.