SEOUL, Nov. 27 (Korea Bizwire) – Justice Minister Kim Hyun-woong vowed on Friday not to tolerate any illegal, violent demonstrations ahead of next week’s protest, the second in three weeks.
“An illegal, violent protest is a critical and evident challenge to peace-loving citizens and the constitutionalism of South Korea,” Kim said in a statement. “(We will) make sure that those who ignore the law and make fun of governmental power pay the price under the name of the people.”
The remarks were made ahead of a second rally scheduled for Dec. 5, three weeks after one took place on Nov. 14, bringing together some 68,000 demonstrators from 53 labor unions and civic organizations.
The protest against the government’s moves to adopt state history textbooks and its drive for labor reform turned violent as it continued late into the night, with protesters brandishing metal pipes and riot police firing water cannons at them.
On the day of the protest, 51 demonstrators were rounded up and as of Friday, the number of people under investigation reached 270, the National Police Agency said.
The violent demonstration also caused 29 demonstrators to be rushed to hospitals after sustaining injuries, according to reports.
Among the injured was a 69-year-old farmer, surnamed Baek, who suffered a brain hemorrhage after being knocked down by a police water cannon.
He was taken to Seoul National University Hospital and underwent surgery but remains in critical condition.
According to the National Police Agency, 113 police officers were injured during the protest, 50 police buses were damaged and 231 items of police equipment, including walkie-talkies and rain coats, were lost or broken.
Police estimated the damage at 389 million won (US$337,000) and are planning to seek compensation through a lawsuit.
It would be the third largest amount sought by the police over violent protesters, following 1.69 billion won in 2009 and 517 million won in 2008.
President Park Geun-hye vowed Tuesday not to tolerate “illegal” demonstrations and instructed officials to come up with strong measures to root out violent protests.
She drew a comparison with Islamic State terrorists, saying demonstrators should not be allowed to wear masks.
On the following day, a group of some 30 Saenuri Party lawmakers, led by National Assembly Vice Speaker Jeong Kab-yoon, proposed an amendment to the law on assembly and demonstration, banning participants in a violent rally or protest from wearing masks or other apparel that hides their identity.
“(Protesters) should not try to avoid punishment by hiding their face,” Justice Minister Kim said. “We will take all possible measures to punish those who lead violent rallies under anonymity.”