Protesting S. Korea Students Met by Tear Gas
Hundreds of South Korean students protesting the Summer Olympics and the arrest of a key student leader hurled rocks and firebombs Friday at police, who fired tear gas for the first time since the Games opened a week ago.
The 40-minute clash broke out at Korea University in eastern Seoul, 2 miles from Tongdaemun Stadium, where Olympic soccer matches are played. No matches were scheduled Friday.
Two students were taken to the hospital with head injuries, student leaders said.
The violence was sparked by the arrest Thursday night of Oh Yong Shik, student body president of Korea University and president of the powerful National Coalition of Student Body Organizations, an umbrella student activist group.
As president of the group, Oh is considered the most powerful student leader in South Korea. He has been on a police wanted list since June in connection with a banned student march for reunification with North Korea that was crushed by police.
Radical students had demanded that hosting of the Olympics be shared with North Korea. They also charge that the Games are being used by the Seoul government to bolster authoritarian rule.
About 300 students chanting “Free Oh Yong Shik!” and “Oppose Dictatorial Olympics!” marched off campus down the main street, where they confronted riot police. The students then returned to the campus gate, where they faced off against 200 riot police.
The protesters attacked with clubs, firebombs and rocks, and police at first responded by picking up the rocks and throwing them back at the students. But soon after the clash began, police heaved dozens of tear-gas grenades and fired rifle-launched canisters of tear gas at the students.
South Korea had previously announced a ban on the use of tear gas during the Olympics in an effort to limit demonstrations. Radicals have staged many protests since the Olympics began, but they have been small and mostly peaceful.
The protesters said they will organize demonstrations next Wednesday and Thursday if Oh is not released by noon Tuesday.
“We have told the people that we will refrain from violent demonstrations,” said Shin Yu Ho, another Korean University leader. “But it was the government that decided to arrest our leaders.”