|Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions take to the streets in Seodaemun District, central Seoul, Wednesday, during a mass rally, despite government warnings not to hold it out of fear of spreading the COVID-19 virus. Yonhap|
Mass gathering causes traffic chaos, raises concern over virus resurgence
By Bahk Eun-ji
A major umbrella union staged a mass rally in central Seoul, Wednesday, causing serious traffic chaos in the downtown area.
Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) held the demonstration to demand better working conditions for irregular workers and a minimum wage hike, despite the authorities' repeated warning not to hold it out of concerns over a possible resurgence of COVID-19 infections.
The union said about 550,000 of its members staged a walkout from their workplaces nationwide, while 80,000 took part in rallies in 13 cities across the country, including 27,000 in Seoul.
The KCTU did not disclose the venue of the mass gathering in Seoul until the last moment, as police had not given permission for it, defining it as illegal. The National Police Agency dispatched 11,000 officers to places usually used for demonstrations, blocking the spots off with fences and police buses.
|Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions march through the street near Seodaemun Station in Seoul, Wednesday, during a mass rally held by the umbrella union as part of a one-day strike to demand better working conditions for irregular workers and a minimum wage hike. Yonhap|
But union members who were scattered around Euljiro Station, Seoul City Hall and the Jongno area quickly gathered near the Seodaemun Station intersection where relatively less police officers were stationed as soon as a notice was shared at 1:30 p.m. They took over the intersection, blocking traffic flow in all directions.
Police forces dispatched to Seoul City Hall and Gwanghwamun were hurriedly redirected to the Seodaemun Station area.
Minor clashes took place between officers and some unionists when the latter were prevented from going to Seodaemun.
From around noon, the main entrances to subway stations in central Seoul including Gyeongbok Palace, Gwanghwamun, City Hall, Jonggak and Anguk were closed off and trains passed through without stopping for several hours to prevent more people from joining the demonstrators, causing inconvenience to residents and worsening traffic congestion.
The central government and Seoul City had defined the rally as illegal, because gatherings of such large numbers of people are banned under current rules to combat the spread of COVID-19. Officials are concerned that mass protests could spark a resurgence in the coronavirus and disrupt the government's plan to move toward "Living with COVID-19."
|Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Union stage a rally at a park in Daejeon, Wednesday, as the union holds mass rallies in Seoul and other 12 cities across the country as part of a one-day strike. Yonhap|
"At a time ahead of an important turning point in the country's path toward a normal life, the massive rally staged by the KTCU threatens public safety," Interior and Safety Minister Jeon Hae-cheol said in a regular virus response briefing at the Government Complex Sejong.
"We will take strict measures against such illegal activities in accordance with the principle of zero tolerance," Jeon added.
Many residents experienced inconvenience due to traffic jams.
"It took more than 30 minutes for my bus to go from one stop to the next," said an office worker in his 30s, who wished to be identified only by his surname Lee.
"It does not make sense for the KCTU to cause such inconvenience to residents if it wants to get public opinion behind their strike," he said.