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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Police, Strikers Clash in South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea's labor unrest erupted into street violence Thursday after President Kim Young-Sam ordered a crackdown on unions and the government announced a plan to lay off 10,000 employees.

Some 2,000 workers and students, trying to protect labor leaders from arrest for leading strikes against a new labor law, clashed with hundreds of riot police in the Myongdong shopping block in Seoul.

Police fired volley after volley of tear gas, but the defiant protesters regrouped and battled back with rocks and metal pipes, witnesses said.

The violence in Seoul, central Taegu city and the Seoul satellite town of Anyang was the worst since angry workers walked out nationwide to force the repeal of the unpopular law rammed through parliament on Dec. 26.

"The ongoing illegal strikes are disrupting social order and worsening the state of the economy. They must be dealt with harshly by law," Kim told a cabinet meeting as the crippling strikes entered their third week.

He then told the ministers to lay off 10,000 public servants in phases to trim the fat off government, taking advantage of the new law which allows a freer hand in cutting labor forces.

His order came after the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, FKTU, called on its 1.2 million members to strike for two days next week, stepping up pressure on the government after 15 days of stoppages at key industries.

Prosecutors then sprang to action, seeking arrest warrants for 20 top union leaders. But the courts later said they had resummoned the leaders.

Topping the arrest list was Kwon Young-Kil, 56, head of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, which has spearheaded the nationwide walkouts against a controversial labor law.

"If the government sends in the police, we will launch the strikes immediately," Kwon told a press conference at Seoul's Myongdong Roman Catholic Cathedral, where he and seven other union leaders have been holed up.

Kwon has set a Jan. 14 deadline for even bigger strikes involving the public sector unless the government repeals the law. The announcement by the more conservative FKTU that it would strike on Jan. 14 and 15th silenced speculation that the strike might be fizzling out. It said subways, buses, taxis and post services would all be affected.