01/05/2009, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA
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Seoul, opposition opens dialogue and unblocks part of parliament

The leaders of the Democrat Party have lifted their occupation of the entrance of the National Assembly. The hall of parliament remains occupied. At the center of the controversy is the free trade agreement with the United States: for the government, it is fundamental to give a new impulse to the economy; the opposition is asking for the agreement to be revised.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The main opposition parties in South Korea have begun withdrawing from parliament, which they have occupied for about ten days in protest against the provisions supported by the government and majority parties.

The decision was made following the announcement yesterday by Kim Hyong-o, president of the national assembly, in which he guaranteed that no coercion will be used to force parliament to vote on the proposed laws.

The leaders of the Democrat Party (DP) have said that they are willing to open negotiations with the Grand National Party (GNP), in order to reach a compromise on the most controversial measures, first among them the free trade agreement with the United States. Signed by presidents Lee Myung-bak and George W. Bush, it is at the origin of the protest campaign that broke out in the country starting last May. The agreement must be ratified by parliament before going into effect: the opposition is asking for a revision of the text, while the governing party is reiterating its importance for giving a new impulse to the national economy.

This morning, representatives of the opposition removed the barricades set in front of the exit, but the occupation of the parliament hall continues. Over the past three days, there have been violent clashes between security forces and demonstrators, at the end of which 53 agents and two members of the opposition were injured. The police have arrested 19 members of the Democratic Labor Party, under the accusation of violence.

The parliamentary crisis is just the latest of many episodes marking the political life of South Korea, characterized by internal tensions, public protests, and an intensification of the crisis with the North Korean regime: over New Year's Eve, more than 100,000 people demonstrated against the "vicious laws" supported by the government of president Lee Myung-bak, accused of pulling the country in an anti-democratic direction. The "vicious laws" concern, in particular, freedom of the media, the management of security services, and the new method for admission to all levels of education, called the ilje gosa, which according to many teachers and families is discriminatory.

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