SEOUL (Reuters) - Anti-government protesters marched through downtown Seoul on Saturday, demanding South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s apology for cracking down on a protest last month when farm and labour activists clashed with police.
Saturday’s rally in the capital drew around 14,000 people, according to police estimates, far fewer than the 60,000 that attended the rally on Nov. 14.
It went ahead after a court rejected the government’s request for an injunction, made in the aftermath of the violent scenes at earlier demonstration, which had been organised by some of the country’s most militant activist groups to protest against Park’s labour market and education policies.
Park’s conservative government plans to make it possible for employers to dismiss workers based on performance and to cap the salaries of senior employees in order to encourage employers to hire younger people and ease youth unemployment.
Activists were also protesting against Park’s decision to replace privately published school history textbooks with government versions, a move they say is an attempt to whitewash military dictators’ oppression of democracy and human rights in South Korea until the mid-1980s.
Charges were laid against dozens of people in the wake of the rally last month, which saw riot police use water cannon and pepper spray after some protesters attacked police with metal pipes and sharpened bamboo sticks.
An arrest warrant has been issued against the head of the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), who has taken sanctuary in a Buddhist temple in Seoul, from where, on Saturday, he repeated a call for a general strike.
“What is our demand? Stop the move to worsen labour conditions that only fattens capitalists,” KCTU chief Han Sang-gyun said in his video message to the rally.
KCTU has frequently issued calls for a general strike in recent years but the only significant action taken has been rotating work stoppages at locations where unionised labour is highly organised.
There is broad public support for Park’s labour policy. A Gallup poll released in September of 1,002 respondents showed more than 70 percent support for the plan to make firing easier and to cap higher income earners’ salaries.
Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore