SEOUL — South Korean police unveiled a special security unit Monday to safeguard world leaders at November’s G20 summit, citing the threat of terrorism, North Korean disruption and massive street protests.
Police have been on high alert as the country prepares to host US President Barack Obama and other Group of 20 leaders at the November 11-12 gathering in southern Seoul.
National Police Agency chief Jo Hyun-Oh, at a ceremony to launch the unit, said there are reports of possible North Korean attempts to disrupt the event, and of plans for “massive protests” by local and foreign activists.
Some 300 officers staged a martial arts demonstration along with drills showing how they will protect visitors and combat terror attacks.
A dozen masked and black-clad police commandos used ropes to descend the wall of a building at a training base in southern Seoul, watched by diplomats and journalists.
Police used water cannon, armoured vehicles, robots, road blocks and helicopters in demonstrating drills to quell violent demonstrations or to guard the venue against terror attacks.
“The security of foreign VIPs is a matter of prime importance,” Seoul mayor Oh Se-Hoon said.
Police have already outlined measures including encircling the venue with 2.2-metre (seven-foot) security fences and importing “sound cannon” to disperse protesters.
Global brands like McDonald’s and Nike have been advised to shut down outlets near the venue over vandalism concerns, Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported.
A special law came into force this month giving police greater power to break up street rallies and allowing a military presence in public places.
The moves drew strong criticism from civic groups. Some said the sound cannon, which emit a high-frequency sound of up to 152 decibels, could cause deafness in the case of prolonged exposure.
Airports started screening suspicious passengers with full body scanners from October 1.
South Korea sees the summit as its biggest appearance on the world stage since the Seoul Olympics in 1988.
But last month 81 labour and civic groups launched an umbrella protest organisation to stage a wave of demonstrations against the summit.
The organisation said it would begin a campaign from October 1, led by a militant union group that claims about 700,000 members and has headed a series of anti-globalisation protests in the past.
It plans to hold a “People’s Summit” from November 8 to 10, followed by large demonstrations in Seoul along with international groups.