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'Falsely Accused, Nowhere to Go': Yongsan Residents
[Opinion] With the investigation still underway, the citizens are still angry
Park Tae-wook (internews)     Print Article 
Published 2009-02-05 15:03 (KST)   
The following is an edited article from the OhmyNews English News Camp, held at our Ganghwa Island school, Jan. 31-Feb. 1. Fourteen students, aged 15-20 took part in learning the ABCs of news writing, news photography and a headline news discussion, which formed the basis of this article.  <Editor's Note>

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"Falsely accused, nowhere to go," shouted Yongsan residents.

On Jan. 20, 2009, just six days before New Year's Day, there was a tragic incident that happened in the Yongsan area of Seoul. Even now, two weeks later, this topic is a hot issue in Korea. Many believe that this is the result born from the bad rule of the president, Lee Myung-bak.

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At Yongsan, for about a year now, there has been talk of redeveloping that part of the city. For the past couple months, construction workers or so-called "service gangsters," roamed the neighborhood and made people fearful.

What they did was unforgivable. They say they first tried to negotiate with the residents, but as we all know, they failed. Then, they tried another method.

This time, they not only instilled fear in the residents, but some actually hammered down brick walls, broke windows, made threats and in some cases, assaulted the residents. It didn't finish in one day, however. They came back the next day, and the next day and the day after that. Again, they made threats to the residents. After days of this kind of harassment, some residents packed up their belongings and left. Others remained and hoped that someone would speak up for them.

As days went by with no change, the residents were getting tired. Everyday "service gangsters" would come to their houses and mock them in every possible way.

Of course it is shocking to believe any of this is happening. One might ask, "Why stay there and wait for harm? Why not leave?" If they would do just that, this wouldn't have been the problem. But the residents had a lot to say to the world.

As things got worse, more people started moving out of their cozy homes into nearby parks or deserted fields. They made themselves comfortable, if there was any comfort, by raising up tents and sleeping inside makeshift houses.

Finally, when only a few houses were left, they decided to carry out violent protests -- putting their lives on the line. Some of them started to go into deserted buildings and constructed double and triple level barricades. They stocked up on food and water. That was the start of the "rebellion" by the residents against the city and the construction companies. Mostly men, they locked themselves in buildings and refused to come out.

Since there were barricades, no one except those who lived in the buildings knew the way up. These men were prepared. Whenever gangsters or police tried to find a way in, they would tighten their barriers. In one news article, they said they even had air rifles, Molotov cocktails, paint thinner and other materials that meant strong resistance.

As days passed, tensions grew. Finally, on Jan. 20, the SWAT division of the police mobilized. By 6 a.m., these squads surrounded one particular building with angry residents in it. These policemen tried to force their way into the building and in doing so, clashed with the residents.

The angry residents had already spread paint thinner on the floors and stairs. The police were informed about this and were supposed to take heed. However, without taking any notice of the danger, the police charged into the building and collided head to head with the residents.

In the process, a fire erupted from somewhere in the building. The few people who were still in the building had nowhere to go. They knew this was the end of the protest. Some actually jumped from the windows, breaking a leg or an arm. The few who got out of the building by way of the stairs were immediately arrested. Still others were rescued by firemen.

However, there were some who did not make it out safely. These men were the five residents who passed away in the fire. In the aftermath, the police did not admit to any mistakes on their part. They blamed only the protesters.

The police even accused the residents of starting the fire. How can this be? Would the residents start a fire and die in it with their protest in vain? No. Then what are they saying?

The answer is this: the police are lying to the citizens.

In reaction to the police's version of events, people from all over Korea stood on their feet and marched into demonstrations. They made banners and shouted "Even apologizing won't be enough," "What is the president doing?" and other phrases that disapproved of the police and the president.

The police and higher ups were taken aback by the reaction of citizens. Kim Suk-ki, who ordered the SWAT action, tried to defuse the situation with words, but the citizens were not tricked. They demanded his resignation followed by a detailed investigation in this matter.

With the investigation still underway, the citizens are still angry. Frequent demonstrations are likely to be seen throughout Korea. With this matter being a hot issue, people are starting to worry other related incidents and this issue is growing by the day. For now, the best solution to this problem is the nation's full out support for the unfortunate residents of Yongsan.


Park Tae-wook is a 17 year old high school student at Gwacheon high school in Gwacheon.
©2009 OhmyNews

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