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South Koreans Riot over Free Trade Agreement

At least 20,000 rallied yesterday in freezing weather against the signing of a free trade pact with Chile. Violence erupted as their voices of dissent were silenced. Carts were set on fire, police busses and barricades were attacked, and police were fended off with steel pipes, stones and other small objects.

Yesterday South Korea's Parliament was busy trying to send troops to Iraq and pass a Free Trade Agreement. Outside, the people had an agenda of their own. Facing water cannons, cold weather, and riot police numbering in the thousands, South Korean Farmers and Anti-War activists made their feelings known. Numbering at least 20,000, the people were attacked by police on their march to the National Assembly compound. Violence erupted as their voice of dissent was silenced. Carts were set on fire, police busses and barricades were attacked, and police were fended off with steel pipes, stones and other small objects. Police arrested at least 9 people as the crowd swarmed.

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South Korea is one of only five nations in the World Trade Organization that has not yet signed a Free Trade pact. Farmers and the poor hope to keep it that way. Between the 146 member countries there are 300 bilateral free trade agreements in place, including one recently signed between the United States and Australia. Such agreements tend to give rich countries an unfair trade advantage over the poor.

With its motives under question, the government of South Korea intends to send troops to Iraq while its people starve at home. National Assembly speaker Park Kwan-Yong said he was determined to go ahead with the vote. "The FTA is the only way to survive." Many disagree with Kwan-Yong, including a Farmer from South Korea who committed ritualistic suicide in Cancun, Mexico. Farmers around the country agree that if free trade is allowed they will likely starve. They can barely afford to live as it is.

Chile's Senate endorsed the pact last month but its ratification has already been delayed twice because of protests. Farmers the market will be flooded with cheap Chilean farm products. Finance and Economy Minister Kim Jin-Pyo warned any further delays would seriously hurt South Korea's credibility and exports. "If the National Assembly fails to ratify the agreement today, it will deal severe damage to the standing of our country," Kim told a local radio program. If the pact passes the legislature, it will be clear that the country values its economic credibility over its people's lives.