Yes, a friend and myself were there when the protest took place. It was quite an eye opener considering that none of us have ever seen a real life demonstration – at least not in spanking clean Singapore. There were actually a few distinct groups of people – the elderly ladies, the *ahem* rainbow people (who forbid us to take photos), and there was this really big group of people seated right outside the Gwanghwamun station (photos in camera, but using other’s laptop, will post some pictures when I get my laptop running).

I am not sure how it will look like on TV, but it was a rather “peaceful” protest in that we didn’t see people carrying kerosene bottles and hurling them at the police. In fact, there was a depiction of a man on a cross with red paint splashed all over him. I wasn’t sure what that was meant to signify, but yes, it was rather noisy with all the shouting over the PA and loud traditional music. When the crowd crossed the street, they literally put traffic to a halt. There were some container trucks that we thought were put up by the protesters, but it turned out that it was the police who wanted to prevent the people from heading to the government offices.

There was a lot of screaming and shouting, which I thought meant “no beef!” and “down with the president!”, which turned out to be quite close. The people were indeed unhappy that the newly elected president has allowed the import of American beef, which they believe is laced with strains of prions that causes the mad cow disease. Before the demonstration started full scale, we decided to head off just in case things turn ugly. We passed by a lot of people from the press (ourselves included, pseudo-press. that is) and some others apparently from the armed forces – but looking very relaxed.

I wonder if the demonstrators needed to apply for a permit for it. For a rally of this scale, there’s enough people to fill up the entire Orchard Road starting from Orchard MRT station all the way to the Istana; and there’s no way that the Singapore government will ever approve of such a permit, althought I’d wonder if (1) there are enough people who are willing to protest, and (2) if there is enough space in all the detention centers *ahem* and prisons to put all these people under arrest. After all, this is Singapore – spanking clean.  

SEOUL – TENS of thousands of flag-waving South Koreans packed central Seoul on Tuesday, demanding the scrapping of an agreement to resume US beef imports and the resignation of new President Lee Myung Bak.

The entire cabinet earlier offered to quit to take responsibility for weeks of turmoil over the deal, which opponents say exposes Koreans to the risk of mad cow disease.

But demonstrators pressed on regardless with what they have billed as their largest protest to date.

Police erected greased barricades of shipping containers in the heart of the capital to block access to government buildings and the presidential palace.

They estimated crowd numbers in Seoul at less than 30,000 just before 7pm (1000 GMT), when the rally was officially to begin, but more and more groups were still arriving.

Among them were about 50 mothers, some pushing baby strollers and chanting ‘Down with Lee Myung Bak.’ ‘I am not interested in politics but in the health of our family,’ said Ms Lee Sun Hee, a 32 year-old housewife.

Police said up to 200,000 people nationwide, including 150,000 in Seoul, were expected to take part in Tuesday’s candlelit protests. Some 37,000 riot police were being mobilised, 20,000 of them in Seoul.

‘Today’s protests are to pass judgement on the Lee Myung Bak government which keeps ignoring people’s demands despite a month of candlelit protests,’ said activist spokesman Park Won-Suk, claiming one million people would show up nationwide.

The US and South Korean governments say the risk of the human form of mad cow disease is virtually non-existent but they have failed to persuade thousands of Korean consumers.

Lee, a conservative former business executive elected last December by a record margin, admitted as such.

‘We will be more humble in listening to the people and serve them with all our might,’ the president, whose approval ratings have tumbled below 20 per cent, promised Tuesday.

Prime Minister Han Seung Soo and the cabinet offered their resignations to Lee ahead of the mass protest.

A presidential spokesman said no decision had been made yet about ministerial changes and the current cabinet would stay in office for the time being.

Yonhap news agency said Lee is expected to replace four or five ministers as he grapples with the backlash over his April agreement to resume US beef imports, which were halted in 2003 over mad cow fears.

Mr Lee is seeking to modify the beef deal but says he cannot renegotiate it, as protesters demand, since this would jeopardise US approval of a separate free trade pact.

US legislators have warned they will not ratify the free trade agreement unless Seoul first opens its beef market.

The White House said on Tuesday that the offer from South Korea’s cabinet to quit was an ‘internal matter’ and that it still hoped for a beef deal.

The beef protesters have been joined by left-leaning opponents of the broader trade deal and by critics of Mr Lee’s market-friendly economic reform agenda.

The radical Korean Confederation of Trade Unions said about 100,000 of its members would take part in Tuesday’s rally, before voting on whether to launch an indefinite walkout next week.

Mr Lee won power with pledges to revitalise the economy but has been grappling with the global credit crunch and soaring oil and raw material prices.

‘Under the volcano of mass protests lies huge magma – public anger over economic instability and Lee’s shaky leadership,’ said Choi Jin of the Institute of Presidential Leadership.

The beef deal was struck on the eve of Lee’s first summit with US President George W. Bush in April. Opponents say the government failed to secure enough safeguards against the supposed dangers of mad cow disease.

Seoul has sought to ease anger by delaying the resumption of imports and calling on Washington not to export beef from cattle more than 30 months old, seen as more vulnerable to possible infection. — AFP

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 11th June 2008



Reader's Comments

  1. Aaron | June 13th, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    Wonder when something like that will ever happen here.

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