Citizens from diverse communities commemorate June Struggle and protest U.S. beef agreement


» Citizens fill the streets of Seoul from Sejongno to City Hall on June 10 to urge the government to renegotiate the U.S. beef agreement and call for the resignation of President Lee Myung-bak.

There was tension in the air in downtown Seoul on the afternoon preceding one of the largest mass protests in the country in over 20 years. Up to a million citizens from all walks of life participated in candlelight protests held on the 21st anniversary of a pro-democracy uprising, with a total of 118 candlelight protests held across the country on June 10. Meanwhile, the nation’s riot police had mobilized its largest force ever in preparation for the events of the night to come.

The main event, a candlelight march, estimated by the organizer to have been attended by up to one million people, began at 7 p.m. with simultaneous demonstrations held at Seoul’s City Hall and along Sejong Avenue. Protesters were demanding that the government renegotiate the U.S. beef agreement and called on President Lee Myung-bak to resign.

The People’s Countermeasure Council against Full Resumption of Imports of U.S. Beef Endangered with Mad Cow Disease, which organized the Seoul demonstrations, said, “The Lee Myung-bak government has already been judged by the millions participating in the demonstrations.”

The council, in a statement issued earlier in the day, appealed to protest participants to display self-restraint even if provoked by riot police, saying that citizens have up to this point insisted on keeping to principles of non-violence and peace and should continue to do so. The council also formed a voluntary service team to maintain order against any sudden flare-ups.

Police issued an alert throughout the nation and mobilized the entire nation’s riot police force, going into emergency mode. Some 30,000 riot police zofficers were mobilized at major protest sites nationwide, with almost 20,000 riot police officers deployed in Seoul alone.

Civic organizations, including religious, labor and pro-democracy groups, gathered at Seoul City Hall Plaza following a series of separate events that took place prior to the candlelight protest march.

An organization formed to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the death of Lee Han-yeol, a former Yonsei University student who died less than a month after being hit by a canister of tear gas during pro-democracy demonstrations on June 9, 1987, joined the rally. Prior to joining the candlelight protest, the group recreated the national funeral held for Lee. Lee’s mother, Bae Eun-sim, and more than 300 others participated in that event.

About 100 members of an organization whose mission it is to honor Park Jong-chul, a pro-democracy activist who was tortured to death by police in the same year, also appeared in the plaza after holding a ceremony for the unveiling of a monument constructed as a memorial to Park.

Almost 700 liberal activists held a ceremony in Hyanglin Church in Seoul to mark the 21st anniversary of the June Struggle, also known as the June 10 pro-democracy movement, and issued a statement opposing the beef deal with the United States and other government plans, including: the cross-country canal project, the liberalization of public education and the privatization of the public sector.

Members of the religious community also issued a statement on the current situation. Over 20 Buddhist organizations held a ceremony to urge the government to renegotiate the beef deal and cancel the construction of the cross-country canal, during which they performed a ritual with 108 bows. They then marched to Seoul City Hall Plaza.

Labor groups also participated in the candlelight protest march. Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, one of Korea’s two largest umbrella labor organizations, encouraged citizens to join the demonstrations. Around 10,000 regional executives with the Korean Metal Workers’ Union came to Seoul on the day of the demonstration and held a rally in front of the Korea Employers’ Federation in Mapo district, after which they joined the candlelight vigil. More than 20,000 office workers held a demonstration in front of Deoksu Palace in downtown Seoul. Member unions from the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, Korea’s other large umbrella labor organization, joined the rally as well. Taxi and bus drivers took part in the demonstration by honking their horns at around 7 p.m. as had been suggested by protest organizers.

Women’s organizations nationwide came together to hold a candlelight protest in Gwanghwamun, near the site of the candlelight protest march.

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