Tens of thousands protested against South Korean President Park Geun-hye's labor 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 labor federation, with a diverse membership spanning trucking, construction, autoworkers and public teachers, organized the rally as the crowd converged in central Seoul and tried to march toward the presidential Blue House.
They were protesting against Park's plans to make the labor market in South Korea 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 organizers 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.
Park has become increasingly unpopular since a ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people last year. Park and her government have been criticized over authorities' slow response to the capsized vessel and for lax regulation of the shipping industry, even though she apologized for the government’s response.
Han Sang-gyun, the president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Union, who has a warrant for his arrest for organizing previous illegal rallies, called for more protests and a general strike, unless the government withdraws its labor market plan.
"The government must immediately cease worsening labor 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 toward the Blue House and sprayed water canons into the crowd. Some protesters fought police with steel pipes.
A 69-year-old farmer, Baek Nam-gi, remained unconscious at a hospital after he fell and injured his head as police doused him with water cannons near City Hall, said Cho Byung-ok, secretary general of the Korea Peasants League.
Video footage showed Baek lying motionless as other demonstrators struggled to drag him away and police continued to fire water cannons from atop police buses.
Police said they have detained 51 people and could possibly bring in more, including those who they believe might had larger roles in organizing the protests.
Kim Sung-soo, spokesman of the country's main opposition party New Politics Alliance for Democracy, released a statement criticizing the "excessively violent" police suppression of the protest, which he said was responsible for Baek's injury.
Protesters tried to move some of the buses by pulling ropes they had tied to the vehicles, and police, wearing helmets and body armor, responded by firing tear gas and water cannons.