Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Thousands protest govt

Police have banned the rally at the plaza, but about 400 protesters camped out overnight at the site, where mass protests in 1987 paved the way for democracy after decades of military-backed rule. -- PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL - MORE than 10,000 South Koreans demanding President Lee Myung Bak resign held an anti-government rally on Wednesday on the 22nd anniversary of a pro-democracy uprising.

The rally was led by opposition parties, who accuse Lee of ordering a politically motivated probe into former president Roh Moo Hyun, who leapt to his death on May 23 after being investigated in a corruption scandal.

The suicide of the liberal leader, who held office from 2003 to 2008, sparked a mass outpouring of grief and fuelled a political row between liberals and conservatives.

Police said the rally at a plaza in central Seoul drew about 12,000 people.

'I warn President Lee that he will see a tragic end if he ignores the voices of the people,' Chung Se Kyun, head of the main opposition Democratic Party, said in a speech.

The protesters responded with anti-government slogans or held up placards demanding Lee's resignation.

Police said about 15,000 officers were deployed, including those in riot gear backed by water cannons, but there was no violence.

Authorities had officially outlawed the rally at the plaza, where mass protests in 1987 paved the way for democracy after decades of military-backed rule, but allowed citizens to participate Wednesday.

In a statement marking the anniversary of the uprising, Lee said democracy should not be abused by 'those who are after selfish interests.' 'Images of people breaking the law and using violence to get what they want are also distorting the true democracy we have worked so hard to achieve,' he said.

Lee faced a crisis last summer after tens of thousands of people staged sometimes violent rallies in Seoul - initially to protest at plans to resume US beef imports and later to denounce his government more generally. -- AFP

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