Thousands of protestors violently clashed with police during an overnight rally Sunday as they attempted to get into the shipyard of Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction in Busan to support striking workers there.
Fifty people were taken into police custody, while dozens of protestors were injured as police used water cannons to disperse the crowds, police officers and protestors said.
About 9,000 citizens and labor activists from all over the country gathered at the southeastern port city Saturday, using nearly 200 buses, called “Hope Buses,” to support Kim Jin-suk, a 52-year-old labor activist who is holed up at a 45-meter giant crane in protest of the company’s layoffs.
The rally ran for two days from Saturday evening through Sunday afternoon. Some protestors “broadcasted” the rally in real time using Twitter.
Police used water cannons mixed with tear gas fluid to prevent the protesters from approaching Yeongdo Shipyard.
Dozens of participants were injured and transferred to hospitals, including Democratic Labor Party Chairwoman Lee Jung-hee.
Among the apprehended 50 demonstrators was former New Progressive Party (NPP) head Sim Sang-jung.
The protesters gathered in front of Busan Station to demand Hanjin Heavy scrap its layoffs of workers and to support activist Kim, who is refusing to stop her sit-in on a 35-meter giant crane, even after the company and union leaders agreed to end the six-month-long strike on June 27.
Kim also continued to send messages through her Twitter account.
“I really thank all the citizens who came here on board the Hope Buses. I will continue to fight and form alliances with citizens,” she tweeted.
The demonstrators marched to the dockyard but were stopped by police about 700 meters away from the shipyard. Then they staged a sit-in there, challenging the police.
The protestors held a press briefing Sunday afternoon and demanded the police release all those apprehended.
They voluntarily dispersed at 3:30 p.m. after a brief phone conversation with Kim.
Former NPP head Roh Hoe-chan said, “This protest is not the final one. Tens of thousands of supporters will keep coming. We’ll make the company retract the unfair layoff.”
Rep. Chung Dong-young of the Democratic Party also said, “We promised a peaceful demonstration but police forcibly suppressed citizens. The police are to blame for the violence as they prevented us from meeting Kim peacefully.”
Police plan to take legal action on the leaders of the rally, saying the protest, held at night and by occupying the streets, was illegal.
After looking at photos and video clips taken from the scene as evidence, they will ask those who used violence to present themselves for questioning.
There was a similar showdown on June 11, when some 400 protesters broke into the shipyard to support the unionists. Actress Kim Yoh-jin joined the demonstrators at that time and was briefly taken into police custody. She was asked to present herself for questioning later.