Riot Police Break Up Daewoo Sit-In

From Associated Press

Thousands of riot police raided Daewoo Motor Co.’s main plant Monday, using forklifts to break down the front gate and end a four-day sit-in protest by 600 laid-off workers.

The workers fought back, hurling rocks and firebombs before dispersing and hiding inside the sprawling plant in Bupyong, 18 miles west of Seoul. At least one worker was hospitalized.

As helicopters clattered overhead, police searched assembly lines and support buildings for workers and union leaders. Within an hour, most workers had left. About 60 protesters were arrested.


Police moved in after previous clashes with workers that left a dozen people injured.

The government of President Kim Dae Jung considers layoffs a necessary step toward streamlining the nation’s bloated big businesses and regaining investor confidence.

Daewoo Motor, South Korea’s third-largest car maker, collapsed in the 1997-98 Asian economic crisis. It has been surviving under court receivership since it filed for bankruptcy in November under an estimated bank debt of $10 billion.

Daewoo officials said they did not think the protest would spread because 5,000 workers at the company’s two other plants in Kunsan and Changwon were not expected to join in.

Thick columns of smoke rose Monday from piles of tires and broken furniture set afire by workers. Witnesses said a makeshift tent caught fire, but police with hoses extinguished blazes before they spread to nearby buildings.

Two police helicopters flew overhead, broadcasting warnings for the workers to disperse or face arrest.

Police were trying to arrest 30 union leaders who organized the protest after the financially ailing company laid off 1,750 workers as part of its restructuring program.


The layoffs were part of efforts to make Daewoo Motor more attractive to General Motors Corp. GM began negotiations to take over Daewoo in September but it is reportedly reluctant to continue without layoffs.

Last week’s dismissals reduced Daewoo’s total work force by nearly 15% to 10,655. Most of the layoffs came from the company’s main plant, which was inefficient because of its outdated facilities.

About 300 laid-off workers and their families began a sit-down protest Friday inside the Bupyong plant. Early Saturday, they were joined by 300 more workers who slipped past police lines.

About 4,000 riot police blocked all gates into the plant. In clashes over the weekend, at least two workers and three police officers were slightly injured.

On Monday, workers fought police at the plant’s main gate, hurling rocks and wielding steel pipes. Some sprayed police with fire extinguishers.

“Guarantee our right to survive!” protesters shouted, charging into columns of police.

“We’ve nothing more to lose,” union leader Kim Il Sup said on state television. “What can we do but protest?”


Daewoo Motors is a subsidiary of Daewoo Group, a major South Korean conglomerate that has become a symbol of aggressive expansion on borrowed money.

Authorities on Monday indicted 34 Daewoo Group executives and accountants for alleged involvement in operating a multibillion-dollar slush fund.

Prosecutors say Daewoo raised $20 billion by taking out illegal foreign-exchange loans and pooling funds from its subsidiaries through falsified trade documents.

Daewoo claimed the money was invested in its overseas facilities, but prosecutors say at least $8 billion was stashed away as a slush fund for Daewoo Group founder Kim Woo Choong.