Tens of thousands protested against South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s labour and education policies on Saturday in one of the largest street rallies in recent years, prompting police to use water canons and barricades to stop the crowd.
A militant labour federation, with a diverse membership spanning trucking, construction, autoworkers and public teachers, organised the rally as the crowd converged in central Seoul and tried to march towards the presidential Blue House.
They were protesting against Park’s plans to make the labour market more flexible by giving employers greater leeway in dismissing workers and her decision for a government-selected panel to write the high school history textbook.
Rally organisers demanded Park step down. The conservative leader took office in 2013 after a decisive election win over a liberal challenger and is serving a single five-year term.
Han Sang-gyun, the president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Union, who has a warrant for his arrest for organising previous illegal rallies, called for more protests and a general strike, unless the government withdraws its labour market plan.
“The government must immediately cease worsening labour conditions,” Han told the crowd, before scurrying away to avoid being caught by the police.
The police set up roadblocks across the main thoroughfare, blocking protesters from marching towards the Blue House and sprayed water canons into the crowd. Some protesters fought police with steel pipes.
Park had earlier left for Turkey to participate in the summit of G20 nations.