New turmoil on Jeju as Gureombi is blasted

Posted on : 2012-03-20 14:15 KST Modified on : 2012-03-20 14:15 KST
Activists accuse police of excessive force as protests are forcibly broken up

By Huh Ho-joon, Jeju Correspondent

The blasting of Gureombi bedrock, a symbol of the campaign opposing the construction of a naval base in Jeju Island, has begun.

Daelim Industries, a company working on the base’s construction, carried out blasts by surprise in the afternoon of March 19. The Navy and the construction companies have been blasting the rocky shore since March 7, but these were the first explosions on Gureombi’s bedrock.

Daerim carried out two blasts at Multeojingae rock at 6:05 pm. Earlier, the Navy began to blast in an area 50m away from Gureombi Rock to prepare the site for the production of caissons, concrete structures which are used to construct bulwark. Originally Gureombi rock blasting was expected to take place on March 20.

The Navy started the blasting one day before a before a hearing was to be held by Jeju Provincial Government, which had been seeking to halt construction.

Earlier, activists opposing the construction responded to news of the imminent blasting effort Monday by briefly blocking the transportation of explosives. But police intervened, rounding up a number of activists and injuring some while breaking the PVC pipes they used to form a human chain. This response, which also included the chasing off of reporters, triggered an outcry from critics who called it excessive force.

At about 5:10am Monday, around thirty people, including a 31-year-old female activist identified as Lee, used five vehicles to block access to “J” storehouse in Seogwipo’s Andeok township, where explosives are being stored for the Gureomi Rock coastal blasting effort. Around ten of them linked arms within PVC pipes measuring one meter in length and 20 cm in diameter to form a human chain, blocking the movement of vehicles transporting powder.

Police sent around 100 officers to the scene at about 9:30 am, where they clashed with activists for over an hour. They attempted to arrest the activists on charges of obstruction of operations. The officers used hammers to smash the pipes, resulting in injuries to the hands and wrists of some activists.

Police also prevented coverage at the scene by reporters from the Hankyoreh, Yonhap News, and local Jeju internet media, grabbing them by the collar and chasing them away even after they showed identification and press armbands. Seo Seon-yeong, an attorney with Lawyers for a Democratic Society, showed identification and demanded to be allowed into the ring of police to monitor for human rights abuses, but her request was refused by police.

Transportation of explosives resumed Monday after police towed away three activist vehicles and took ten activists to Seogwipo Police Station, accusing them of obstructing operations. The construction companies continued blasting at the inland caisson production area within the construction site Monday afternoon, and the seabed was leveled using marine dredges.

Meanwhile, citizens and students gathered on Seoul’s Cheonggye Plaza at 7pm Monday for a candlelight rally calling for the cancellation of the naval base construction plans. A “life mass to pray for the repentance of Samsung for destroying Gureombi” was also held by priests with the Society of Jesus at 8 pm Monday in front of the Samsung headquarters by Seoul’s Gangnam Station, where Samsung C&T is located.



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