Priests and lay people arrested for protesting against new military base on Jeju Island

» 09/03/2011 13:11
SOUTH KOREA

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
Many civil society organisations are opposed to the new naval base because it would affect the island’s pristine nature and great beauty. The president of the Korean Bishops’ Conference also opposes the installation. A ‘peace plane’ and 20 ‘peace buses’ are set to be part of a peaceful non-violent protest.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – Police took away two Catholic priests and dozens of lay people as they protested against the construction of a naval base on Jeju Island. More activists are expected on the island to continue a sit-in against the construction that began back in June.

Police were deployed yesterday in the village of Gangjeong (Seogwipo Municipality), near the side of the future naval base. At least 600 police officers surrounded the area, which was occupied by 80-100 activists, sealing it off.

After removing the protesters, police sent in excavators to the site.

Protesters clashed with officers, sitting in shoulder-to-shoulder on the road, shouting slogans and blocking the police’s path. Around 30 people, including two priests, were reportedly taken away by police.

Jeju Island is located south of the Korean Peninsula, in the Korea Strait, and is run by an autonomous provincial government. It is famous for its unspoilt nature and breathtaking landscapes.

Demonstrators are opposed to the naval base in order to protect the island’s pristine nature and tourist industry. The government instead claims that a US$ 970 million military installation is needed for national security reasons.

Government plans face a wide front of opposition. About two weeks ago, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea and bishop of Cheju, Mgr Peter Kang U-il, came out against the plans in a paper titled “Christian Conscience says ‘No’ to the construction of a naval base on Jeju Island”.

Gangjeong village council also opposes the base. In a press conference yesterday, it called for a stop to construction, announcing cultural events with thousands of people near the site slated for the base.

Activists are also not waiting idly by. A ‘peace plane’ is expected to fly 170 supporters to the island. Some 20 ‘peace buses’ are supposed to bring people to join non-violent peaceful actions.

Two days ago in Seoul, at the Neutinamu Hall, 120 civil society organisations held a conference urging people to embrace Gureomb, the site of the planned base.

“Although the court granted an injunction banning acts obstructing construction of the naval base, this does not constitute grounds for the government, the navy, prosecutors or police to forcibly proceed with resuming construction or deploying personnel,” the groups stated.

In addition, two day ago, Gangjeong village chief Kang Dong-gyun was arrested along with other residents. Human rights groups have called on the government to release them, slamming the atmosphere of martial law that prevails on the island.

For its part, the Jeju Special Self-governing Provincial Council issued a statement demanding, “The government itself must step forward as the main player in resolving the situation, search for a peaceful solution and refrain from using deploying force.”

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