Seoul braces for rallies amid virus resurgence

SEOUL– South Korean authorities remained on guard over street rallies scheduled for Saturday amid rising concerns over possible spread of the new coronavirus.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), a major umbrella labor organization, and other progressive groups plan to stage 31 rallies in 61 locations across Seoul in the afternoon, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said.

Conservative groups will also hold 47 protests in 85 locations, according to the police.

While the number of participants in each gathering will be kept below 100 under social distancing rules, local authorities are vigilant as the number of COVID-19 cases here has been rising sharply in recent days.

The capital city currently prohibits any protests with more than 100 participants.
President Moon Jae-in made a last-minute appeal for organizers to cancel the rallies.

“The rallies should be reconsidered,” Moon said in a Facebook post. “Freedom of assembly matters but the safety of the people is more important,” he added.

He warned of stern legal actions against any illegal acts and breaches of social distancing rules during the rallies.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the government will take measures to ensure participants comply with COVID-19 guidelines, including wearing masks and keeping safe distance. The government will firmly respond to violators and thoroughly hold them accountable, he said in a Facebook post.

“We will do our best to prevent today’s rallies from becoming a trigger for the spread of COVID-19,” Chung said.

Seoul police plan to establish barricades and promptly crack down on the rallies should the number of participants in each gathering increase sharply.

“We will advise participants to follow health guidelines while limiting the number of participants,” a police official said. “If the number exceeds the limit, we will take stern actions, including dispersing them.”

South Korea, despite being considered to be one of most successful countries in terms of managing the virus pandemic, has suffered a slew of cluster infections since identifying its first patient in late January.

At the early stage of the pandemic, the country reported a whopping 5,200 cases of COVID-19 traced to a minor church sect from the southeastern city of Daegu. Later in the year, some 280 cases were reported from a nightlife district in the capital city.

More recently, 650 cases were traced to an anti-government rally held in the central Seoul on Aug. 15. A conservative church in northern Seoul, whose members also participated in the demonstration, added another 1,173 cases.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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