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Posted : 2009-05-27 18:36
Updated : 2009-05-27 18:36

Tension Building Up at Seoul Plaza


Seoul Plaza remains encircled with police buses to keep mourners from entering the plaza. / Yonhap

By Park Si-soo
Staff Reporter

Tension is subtly building up around Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall between police and mourners for the late former President Roh Moo-hyun as certain civic groups are demanding the plaza be open to the public for mourning.

About 30 civic and religious groups took part in a joint mourning ceremony for the late President who leapt to his death last Saturday. Among the organizers were the progressive People's Solidarity for Participatory Democratic and the Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice.

Upon the demand, Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon asked the government to allow the opening of the plaza for mourning. However, the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, which is in charge of the funeral preparations, rejected the request.

Civic group members changed the venue to ground in front of the Seoul Museum of Art, next to Deoksu Palace.

Thousands of riot police tightly surrounded the venue anticipating a possible clash between angry mourners and police, ensuring the obstruction of traffic.

Since Roh's death, dozens of police buses have surrounded the plaza to block the entry of mourners.
Police are staying on high alert around the clock for unexpected out-door rallies by supporters of the former President, and tension is expected to reach a peak Friday when Roh's funeral service is to be held in central Seoul.

The National Police Agency has dispatched as many riot police as possible to venues for Roh's funeral and public mourning altars especially in Seoul. In central Seoul alone, more than 7,000 riot police are on standby in case of any possible confrontations, police said.

They didn't rule out the possibility that ongoing mourning parades could develop into anti-government rallies, with a large number of Roh's supporters believing the former head of state had fallen prey to a politically motivated investigation by the prosecution, which they say is under President Lee Myung-bak's control.

Commissioner General Kang Hee-rak, in an emergency meeting Sunday, ordered riot police to pin a black ribbon on their protective gear as a sign of condolence. Kang also urged them not to make any provocative gestures towards mourners.

``Do not use any anti-protest equipment such as police sticks when dealing with mourners,'' the commissioner said.

On Saturday, a small tent installed near Seoul City Hall to be used as a makeshift mourning booth for late Roh was disassembled by police, triggering clashes between the two sides.

Currently, several tents have been installed there and tens of thousands of people have paid their last respect to the late liberal politician, with the spot isolated by hundreds of riot police and police buses.

Roh's supporters have teamed up with progressive civic groups to launch a campaign to impeach President Lee for orchestrating a ``politically-oriented'' investigation and causing Roh's death. More than 70,000 citizens have shown their support, said an activist at the scene. ``We will submit a petition containing supporters' signatures to the National Assembly after the funeral,'' the activist said. The anti-government move has gone to the Internet, with cyber campaigns to impeach President Lee underway at major portals.

pss@koreatimes.co.kr

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