Members of a civic coalition in North Jeolla Province denounce the National Assembly’s ratification of the free trade agreement with the U.S. during a rally in front of the ruling Grand National Party’s North Jeolla office in Jeonju, Wednesday. / Yonhap
By Kim Rahn
Labor unions, farmers’ groups and progressive civic groups are threatening to stage large-scale protest rallies against the ruling Grand National Party for railroading a free trade agreement (FTA) with the U.S. through the National Assembly.
They criticized the ratification for “abandoning economic sovereignty.” The protest is likely to grow as they plan demonstrations and other collective action.
The Federation of Korean Trade Unions denounced the GNP, claiming the trade deal is a humiliating agreement to benefit the U.S. and many clauses of the pact infringe on Korea’s economic sovereignty.
“We can’t forgive the GNP. It will take responsibility for depriving the people of their rights to live,” the umbrella union said in a statement, Tuesday.
Those engaged in farming, which is particularly vulnerable to the tariff-free trade, were furious, with some trying to occupy GNP members’ offices in their regions.
A farmer’s association in North Gyeongsang Province said in a statement that farmers would like to “throw hand grenades to the Assembly.”
“The GNP, which doesn’t fear the people, should disband. President Lee Myung-bak should also resign. We’ll launch a campaign to dissolve the GNP and oust Lee,” the association said.
The Korean Alliance against the Korea-U.S. FTA, an alliance of about 300 civic, labor and farmers’ organizations, claimed the passage of the trade deal was “a coup” which trampled on democracy and thus is invalid.
“We declare that from now on we’ll launch an all-out struggle to denounce the GNP and the Lee administration and to unseat lawmakers who participated in the coup in next year’s election,” the alliance said.
Internet users expressed regret over the GNP’s railroading of the passage and the violence that had occurred.
“Show, show show! A tear gas canister, high-pitch voices and chaos! This is the Korean Assembly’s present level. An important decision was made, so history will tell later whether it was right or not. But it will be recorded forever that the Assembly didn’t listen to the people,” a blogger, veryup, said.
In the meantime, conservative civic groups generally welcomed the passage.
“Now the government and the GNP should try to make people and opposition parties understand why the pact needed to be ratified. We also urge them to complement the deal by thoroughly reviewing clauses, including the investor-state dispute (ISD) settlement provision which President Lee promised to renegotiate,” a dozen of conservative groups said in a joint statement.
Street protests to continue
On Tuesday afternoon right after the Assembly passed the pact, some 600 members of the anti-FTA alliance staged a candlelit vigil near the Assembly in Yeouido, central Seoul. They then moved to Myeongdong to continue the demonstration.
On the other side of Myeongdong, some 2,500 protesters clashed with police as they occupied streets and attempted to march at around 9 p.m. Police used water cannons to disperse them and 19 protesters were taken into police custody. They voluntarily dispersed at 11:30 p.m.
More demonstrations are likely to take place. The anti-FTA alliance organized another rally in Yeouido Wednesday evening and plans to hold another one there on Thursday at 2 p.m. and a candlelit vigil at 7 p.m.
On Saturday evening, the group plans to organize a large-scale candlelit vigil at Seoul Plaza in central Seoul at 6 p.m., and members of other civic groups, trade unions and opposition party members are expected to participate.