’Occupy protests’ spread to Seoul
Organizers pledge more rallies for social, economic justice
By Kim Rahn
Hundreds of civic group members, inspired by broadening anti-Wall Street demonstrations, took to the streets Saturday to “Occupy Seoul” to protest what they called the greed of financial firms and widening income gap.
However, they failed to occupy Seoul Plaza in the center of the capital as police blockaded the area.
Rally organizers said they will gather again to occupy the plaza next Saturday under the slogan of “99 percent of ordinary Koreans who stand up against the super-wealthy 1 percent who benefit from the current financial environment.”
Separately, another group of protests were held in Yeouido, the cities’ financial district, against financial firms and “foreign investment capital.”
Despite the organizers’ pledge to continue their struggle for social and economic justice, it is unclear whether the Korean movement will continue to gain momentum, as unlike the U.S. protest, demonstrators here are comprised of various civic groups calling for their own demands.
Despite torrential rain, more than 600 citizens and members of 42 civic and students’ groups attempted to hold the rally at Seoul Plaza at 6 p.m. Saturday, but police blocked them from approaching the site. They instead gathered in front of Deoksu Palace across the street, holding a candlelit protest.
“The problem on Wall Street is not different from Korea’s. We want a fundamental change in the greedy financial system,” Heo Young-koo, head of Spec Watch Korea, which led the protest, said.
Will rally gain momentum?
A member of Korea Youth Solidarity said during a free speech session, “I think the financial system is wrong, as only a handful of people get richer while the majority of others are sacrificed. I came here because I’m one of the 99 percent.”
They were joined by some 200 people who rallied in front of the Financial Services Commission headquarters in Yeouido, dubbed Korea’s Wall Street, earlier in the afternoon. They called for the government to strengthen regulations on financial institutions, criticizing the corruption scandal involving savings banks.
Some foreigners participated, with five Spanish men holding a placard that read, “United for Global Change.”
A director of Korean People’s Solidarity against Poverty said the action is worldwide, saying they received a message from organizers of the Tokyo protest for solidarity. “In the next rally on Oct. 22, we’ll occupy Seoul Plaza. The 99 percent will keep acting,” he said.
But some were skeptical over whether the protest can continue, as participants are from various interest groups, calling for not only changes to the financial system but also their own demands.
Students called for tuition cuts and more jobs, while some demanded the government treat regular workers and non-regular workers equally. Some labor groups called for the settlement of the dispute at Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction.
Those against the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement and others calling for a revision of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) also joined in.
“There are so many issues for which we have to light candles, such as tuition cuts and the Hanjin Heavy strike. All these issues were merged in ‘Occupy Seoul’ and the 99 percent will not put out candles until they are solved,” a rally participant said.