The Seoul Metropolitan Government on Tuesday forcibly removed tents set up by a far-right minor party at Gwanghwamun Square in early May without a permit, only to have them reinstalled by the party amid fierce protests.
About 500 Seoul city officials and 400 contract demolition workers tore down the tents put up by Our Republican Party, formerly the Korean Patriots Party, on May 10 as part of its campaign calling for the release of former President Park Geun-hye, who is serving a 25-year jail term for corruption.
Some four hours later, the party officials reinstalled three tents and a long canopy and continued to protest as of 6 p.m. They have vowed to install more tents.
“We will double the installation of the tents. We will continue our fight ceaselessly,” Rep. Cho Won-jin, head of Our Republican Party, told the party officials and supporters at the square.
Some 300 party members and supporters clashed with the city officials and demolition workers as they began taking down two tents and a canopy at around 5:20 a.m. The physical confrontation resulted in 40 people -- mostly in their 60s and 70s -- being taken to hospitals, according to the city. No one sustained serious injuries. Two demolition workers and two party officials were apprehended for using violence at the scene.
Our Republican Party had set up the tents without a permit from the Seoul city government, and the city had continued to warn the party’s officials of their forcible clearance.
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said on his Facebook account that the forcible removal of the tents was “minimal action” taken against acts that “break laws, ignore procedures and cause harm to citizens.”
“It was an inevitable decision to return the square to citizens,” Park said, vowing stern action against any illegal act.
According to the city government, there were many complaints from citizens about the party officials’ illegal occupation of the square, with the majority of them -- 140 cases -- concerning the obstruction of pedestrian traffic.
“Why do they only demolish our tents when they did not do anything about the tents set up by bereaved families of the Sewol ferry sinking? It is unfair. We will continue to try to install the tents,” said Park Jae-sung, 71, who said he had come to the square since the tents were set up in May.
As for the tents that occupied a part of the square for about five years, the Seoul city government said that the situations are different, citing the central government’s support for those who lost family members in the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster that claimed 304 lives -- most of whom were high school students on a field trip.
Gwanghwamun Square is open to public use for the purpose of “leisure and cultural activities” in accordance with the city ordinance on the management of the square. Those who seek to use the square are required to submit an application seven days in advance.
The Seoul government plans to charge the party for the demolition cost of 20 million won ($17,325).
The Korean Patriots Party, established by Park Geun-hye’s supporters in July 2017, recently changed its name to Our Republican Party. It denounces Park’s trial as politically charged and seeks her release from prison. It also demands an investigation into the deaths of five protesters on the day Park’s impeachment was upheld in 2017.
By Ock Hyun-ju (email@example.com