October 13, 2011
On 14 October 2011, a number of civic groups are planning to hold protests in central Seoul, inspired by the recent ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests in the United States. To date, the Korea Finance Consumer Federation, SpecWatch Korea and the Korea Confederation of Trade Union (KCTU) have confirmed participation.There are currently a number of underlying social grievances, which may see support for the planned protest widen. These include increasing student and household debt; youth unemployment; closure of savings banks; widening income disparities; and concerns regarding consumer protection.
In addition, there are a number of social protests that are a perennial feature of the political scene in Korea, including claims against Japanese historical actions and current policies; stronger support for agricultural communities; and workers rights.
However, with the Korea United States (KORUS) Free Trade Agreement (FTA) passed in the US Congress and in the final stages of legislative implementation in the National Assembly, groups opposed to the agreement will seek to use the ‘Occupy Yeouido’ protest to attract attention to the issue.
With President Lee Myung-Bak currently visiting the United States, there is also a greater potential for the protests to receive greater coverage in the US domestic media. Accordingly, groups opposed to the KORUS FTA; groups seeking revision of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA); groups opposed to thew construction of the naval base on Jeju island; and groups more generally opposed to the United States; are likely to seek to have their agenda included in the protests.
The planned protest has not yet attracted a wide degree of support. However, the nature of social protest in Korea can see support grow very rapidly. Given the underlying grievances, and the fact that this may be the last opportunity to protest the KORUS FTA, there remains a potential for a significant growth in participation.
The protests are due to commence at around 2pm at the Financial Services Commission (FSC) building in Yeouido, Youngdeungpo-gu, Seoul.