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Updated: July 22, 2001 6:45 p.m. EDT
World: Thousands march in South Korea labor protest
Copyright 2001 Nando Media
By JAE-SUK YOO, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (July 22, 2001 1:12 p.m. EDT) - Protesting what they called alleged government suppression of labor movements and demanding the release of jailed leaders, nearly 12,000 workers rallied and marched in central Seoul Sunday. The workers, who belong to the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, a powerful umbrella labor group, also showed support for anti-globalization demonstrators clashing with police in Genoa, Italy, against a summit of the world's richest nations there.

"Down with the Kim Dae-jung government suppressing workers," protesters shouted as they marched along an eight-lane boulevard after a two-hour rally at a central Park.

Police let workers march down half of the boulevard, carrying hundreds of white and blue union flags. Dozens of young workers at the head of the march wore white surgical masks apparently to avoid being identified by police.

There were no immediate reports of clashes or arrests.

The workers traveled from throughout the country to throw their support for the confederation leader, Dan Byong-ho, and four aides who have holed up inside a Catholic church since mid-June to avoid arrest.

The union leaders fled to the church after police, armed with court-issued warrants, tried to arrest them on charges of organizing a series of illegal nationwide strikes earlier this year.

The church has often been used by labor leaders and political opponents as a sanctuary to avoid arrests.

The protesters demanded the release of "hundreds" of union leaders convicted or waiting for trial for involvement in earlier labor protests.

Workers complain that government's efforts to speed corporate reforms are causing huge staff cuts. The government has said the measures are needed to help the economy recover from the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.

Foreign investors and analysts have long blamed slow corporate reforms for the country's economic problems. They cite a rigid labor market as a major stumbling block to South Korean corporate reforms.

South Korea's labor market has become considerably flexible as the country went through the Asian economic crisis. But layoffs are still a taboo for Korean workers who are accustomed to lifetime employment.

Copyright 2001 Nando Media

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