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Most illegal tents in Gwanghwamun removed

Aug 29,2019
Rally organizers cleared the majority of tents illegally erected near Gwanghwamun Station in central Seoul on Wednesday morning after the Jongno District Office warned them they would be forced out by police.

Since early this year, eight organizations, including labor unions and political parties, had erected 14 tents on either side of Sejong-ro in the Gwanghwamun area, including near exit 5 of Gwanghwamun Station, in front of the KT headquarters in Gwanghwamun and the Sejong Center, as well as inside the Sejongno Park adjacent to the center.

The eight organizations had reported their rallies to the local police in advance, as is required by the Assembly and Demonstration Act in Korea. The law requires rally organizers to report their equipment, including banners, signs or campaign trucks, but tents are not included on the list of permitted items.

“The plan was to forcibly take down the tents illegally erected throughout the Sejong-ro area in the morning,” said an official of the Jongno District Office on Wednesday. “We sent out warnings to [eight] organizations staging illegal sit-ins in the area on Tuesday and five of them have cleared their tents by this morning on their own.”

They included the tents by exit 5 of the station, which were erected by a far-right group early this year.

“The Jongno District Office warned us of an all-out removal of tents in the area,” a member of the group told the JoongAng Ilbo on Tuesday. “We decided to take them down on our own.”

“I’m so relieved to see them go,” said a 30-year-old man surnamed Kim, who works in the Gwanghwamun area. “They would blast music sometimes and would hold up banners with unpleasant images. It was painful to pass by the area.”

“We’ve had 360 reports of complaints from citizens asking the local government to take down the tents,” said Kim Nam-seon, head of a construction management bureau of Jongno District Office. “The officials of the district office would visit these tents as often as possible and tell the organizers to take down the tents. Since some of them took down their tents on their own after we warned them, we decided not to go through with the plan to issue an administrative order to take them down by force.”

Also gone by Wednesday morning were the tents erected at the Sejongno Park by Korean Government Employees’ Union.

There are still five tents left in front of the Sejong Center. Four of them were erected by Our Republican Party, the far-right party demanding the release of imprisoned former President Park Geun-hye, and one by a union of metal parts manufacturers.

“We will issue another warning soon,” Kim said.

There are also a number of tents erected near the Blue House by labor unions including the Korean Government Employees’ Union and Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union. One of the banners on the tents read, “Today is the 95th day of our sit-in.”

“We will first work on the tents near the Sejong-ro area, and then we will work on those near the Blue House,” Kim said. “We don’t have an exact timeline for our plan [on taking down illegal tents] at the moment.”

BY PARK HAE-LEE [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]