Thousands of anti-government protesters marched in cities across South Korea on Friday, denouncing the labor policies of the increasingly unpopular President Park Geun-hye.
The rallies were orchestrated by one of the country's two major umbrella labor unions. They come about a week after police clashed violently in the capital Seoul with demonstrators critical of the government's handling of a ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people a year ago.
Park Seong-shik, a spokesman from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, said that a rally Friday attended by about 10,000 people in Seoul was held without significant conflict with police. Thousands of police officers, dressed in fluorescent yellow jackets, some carrying riot shields, marched through the streets near the Seoul City Hall to keep the demonstrators in check.
Labor organizations are critical of policies they say will reduce wages and job security as well as being unhappy with the economic dominance of family-owned conglomerates known as chaebol. The KCTU is calling for the government to stop implementing proposed reforms of the labor market, which would make it easier for companies to fire employees, according to The Korea Times. The group also called for the government to stop cutting pensions for public officials and raise the minimum hourly wage to 10,000 won, the equivalent of about $9.10, from 5,580 won, the newspaper said.
"The Park Geun-hye government must shift from current policies that serve only chaebol," KCTU President Han Sang-goon said during the rally.
Sporadic clashes were reported in other cities, including Daegu, where police used water cannons to disperse protesters occupying a road. There were no immediate reports of injuries from the clash.
Another large rally is planned in Seoul on Saturday when unionized workers plan to join groups supporting the families of the ferry disaster victims. They have been calling for the government to allow a more thorough investigation into the cause of the sinking.
A total of 304 people, most of them students from a single high school, died when the ferry Sewol sank off South Korea's southwest coast on April 16, 2014.
Prosecutors blamed negligence by crew members, excessive cargo and improper storage for the sinking, along with slow rescue efforts.
Relatives of the victims say the investigation was insufficient and have called for the establishment of an independent committee to look more deeply into the government's responsibility for the sinking and the high death toll.
Dozens were injured in the clash between demonstrators and police last Saturday.
The Associated Press