S. Korea police stop anti-government march

SEOUL — South Korean police in riot gear halted an anti-government march through Seoul Wednesday by thousands of students, workers and farmers protesting several issues including a free trade pact with the U.S.

Police set up two rows of five-meter-high (16 foot) barricades, backed up by riot vehicles including water cannon, as the demonstrators occupied the 10-lane Sejongno street.

Police put the number of protesters at 6,000 and said some 9,000 officers with helmets and riot shields were mobilized to prevent violence. Marchers later dispersed peacefully.

Protesters shouted slogans opposing a free trade accord with the United States signed in 2007 but still awaiting ratification by the two countries’ legislatures.

U.S. officials said Tuesday that the White House had reached a deal with top Washington lawmakers to allow the pact to move ahead in Congress.

The deal, which will remove 95 percent of tariffs between the two economies, has been controversial in both countries. The main U.S. union confederation says big businesses would be the main beneficiary.

But U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has put a priority on ratification this year, saying the agreement will support 70,000 U.S. jobs and help double U.S. exports to South Korea within five years.

Marchers also demanded an end to what they called government favoritism towards top conglomerates, an improvement in working conditions and an increase in the minimum wage, especially for part-time workers.

Students called for quick government action to reduce college tuition fees.

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