Demonstrators use ropes to pull on police buses that were used as barricades, during a demonstration at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul, Nov. 14. The police set up three layers of barricades to keep protesters away from the Blue House. (by Kim Bong-kyu, staff photographer)
Demonstrators have criticized police for excessive response to anti-government gathering
During massive demonstrations on Nov. 14, to prevent demonstrators from reaching Gwanghwamun Plaza, the police fired multiple water cannons from all directions. From the onset, they aimed the high-pressure water cannons directly at the demonstrators. People who were hit by the water, which was mixed with capsaicin and coloring agents, were knocked to the ground or driven to the sides of the road as they coughed and wheezed.
The demonstrations were sparked by frustration with the South Korean government, led by President Park Geun-hye, over issues ranging from state-issued history textbooks to labor reform, from unemployment among the young to the soaring cost of rice, clashes occurred in various parts of Seoul as the police cracked down on the demonstrations.
Direct fire from point-blank range, even after they‘re down
The clashes began after the main rally at Seoul Plaza ended around 4:30 pm and demonstrators began their march. The protesters confronted police, who had set up vehicle barricades on the street in front of the Seoul Finance Center and the intersection in front of the Jongno District Office. Around 5 pm, the police started to fire water cannons directly at the demonstrators in an attempt to force them to disperse.
On several occasions, witnesses saw the police keep firing water cannons at people who were already on the ground. One instance was when the police fired a water cannon for about 20 seconds at Baek Nam-gi, 68, around 7 pm. Baek, a farmer, had collapsed after being hit by a water cannon that was about 10 meters away at the intersection in front of Jongno District Office.
Another instance was around 5:35 pm when the police fired a water cannon for more than 30 seconds at a man in his 30s who was on the ground in front of D Tower at Gwanghwamun. The man, carrying a camera, had been running away from the water cannon when he tripped over a rope tied down by protesters trying to pull over the vehicle barricade. The man was bleeding from his head, but he could not get up because of the water cannon.
Lee Su-jeong, press secretary for the People’s Camp for Rising Up and Fighting, who organized the demonstrations, criticized the use of excessive force by the police. “The police fired water cannons directly at protesters for six hours, from 5 pm until 11 pm. They didn‘t even do this during the mad cow demonstrations in 2008,” Lee said.
“Excessive use of water cannons is murder”
Baek Nam-gi, a farmer from South Jeolla Province, is moved by demonstrators after being knocked down by a police water cannon during a demonstration at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul, Nov. 14 (Newsis)
The police instruction manual for water cannon vehicles tells officers to fire water cannons in three consecutive phases: spray fire, high-angle fire, and direct fire. But the police are facing criticism for skipping the stages of spray fire and high-angle fire (or rushing through them) and almost immediately resorting to direct fire on Saturday.
The operating manual says that, during direct fire, the cannon should be aimed at the chest or below so as not to injure protesters. But the police officers on Saturday fired the water cannon at Baek’s head and kept hitting his upper body even after he was down.
Even though the manual says that, when someone has been wounded during operation of the water cannon, officers are to take relief measures immediately and report the incident to their commanding officer, in this instance the police actually blocked relief efforts by firing the water cannon at people who were coming to help the fallen man.
“The initial use of the water cannon could be interpreted as professional negligence and bodily injury, but firing a water cannon for more than 20 seconds at someone on the ground could at least be regarded as gross negligence leading to murder,” said Jo Yeong-seon, a lawyer with MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society.
“How could the police have gone so far unless it didn‘t matter to them whether the guy lived or died?” one of the organizers of the demonstration asked angrily.
“According to reports I have received, the use of water cannons was in line with the regulations,” said Gu Eun-su, commissioner of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, on Nov. 15.
New weapons for the police: soybean oil, silicone and saws on long poles
In addition to the water cannons, the police also deployed several new kinds of anti-riot weapons, as if they were competing with the protesters. The police applied silicone to the space between the wheels of the police buses to keep them from being pulled over and smeared the buses with soybean oil to keep protesters from climbing atop them. They also used saws at the end of long poles to cut ropes meant to pull the buses over.
Protesters attached “confiscation stickers” on the police buses used in the vehicle barricades. The stickers said “all authority is hereby confiscated from the administration of Park Geun-hye, who is the main culprit in ‘Hell Joseon’ and the so-called labor reform.”
Some of the protesters attached ropes to the police buses to pull them away, rocked the buses back and forth, and broke windows, and a few of the buses were dragged into the middle of the road. Since the vehicle barriers were several layers thick, however, the protesters failed to break through.
Some of the protesters were armed with iron pipes, and around 30 protesters were seen carrying torches during the demonstration. Video was also taken of one protester attempting to set fire to the fill spout of a police bus.
By Heo Seung, Choi Woo-ri and Park Su-ji, staff reporters
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