S.Korea police on alert ahead of shipyard march

SEOUL – South Korean police were on high alert Saturday in the port of Busan as thousands of demonstrators gathered for a night march to protest layoffs, a police spokesman said.

More than 7,000 riot police will be deployed to stop the demonstrators from marching through the centre of the southern city to the shipyard of Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Co., the spokesman said.

Activists said some 10,000 protesters from across the country were to gather at different locations in Busan before marching to the shipyard, where one-third of the workforce were laid off in December.

Similar marches took place in June and earlier this month.

“We will break the march as it will certainly disturb traffic flows,” the police spokesman told AFP.

The protest is to support Kim Jin-Suk, a 52-year-old woman who has been holding a sit-in for more than 200 days at the top of a 35-metre (115-foot) high crane at the shipyard, demanding the company call off the redundancies.

She has been holed up on the giant structure since January, with other strikers sitting-in on the ground supplying her with food and water by rope.

The company has ruled out any negotiations with Kim unless she ends her protest and leaves the crane.

Her sit-in has drawn growing public attention on social network sites including Twitter, although the country’s mainstream, conservative news media have largely ignored it.

For many workers in South Korea, losing their job is considered an economic catastrophe because of weak social safety nets.

In December, some 900 union members at the shipyard, where 1,200 people were employed, went on strike in protest over the announcement of 400 layoffs by the company, which responded by locking the shipyard.

Last month, 22 protesters were arrested when labour activists clashed with security guards at the site.

The strike and lockout lasted 190 days until the labour union, apparently fearing that police might storm the shipyard to break the strike and arrest its leaders, reached a deal with the management on June 27.

Many of the strikers returned to work but dozens of others, including Kim, have continued the sit-in, saying the agreement failed to settle the layoff issue.

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