Gov't vows 'zero tolerance' for protesters over Hyundai Motor dispute

SEOUL, July 22 (Yonhap) -- Law enforcement agencies vowed Monday to take stern measures based upon "zero-tolerance principles" against protesters involved in last week's violent rally for the rights of Hyundai Motor Co.'s irregular workers.

On Saturday, at least 11 police officers, 82 Hyundai officials and dozens of protesters were wounded after violence erupted at the factory of the country's largest carmaker in the southern port city of Ulsan. Some 300 protesters under the name of the so-called Hope Bus Campaign rushed into the factory by tearing down wire fences.

Thousands of protesters were holding a two-day rally in front of the factory, some 414 kilometers south of Seoul, from Friday, calling on the carmaker to resolve the long-drawn demand that its irregular workers be considered permanent workers per a 2010 Supreme Court ruling.

"We witnessed a regrettable incident that protesters even wielded bamboo spears and police officers suffered injuries. It constitutes a serious crime that shakes the foundation of the rule of law," said National Policy Agency Commissioner-General Lee Sung-Han.

He instructed officers to "take strong actions by dispatching police force and equipment sufficiently, arresting offenders at the scene and pushing to file damage suits if necessary."

The Ulsan Metropolitan Police Agency on Monday set up a joint task force involving 53 officers to look into the violent case.

During a meeting involving relevant government agencies on Monday to discuss ways to deal with the incident, the prosecution also vowed stern measures, including detaining and questioning "in a swift fashion" those who committed the violent acts during the protest as well as those who masterminded the incident.

"(Officials) discussed countermeasures against such violent protests which could have an adverse effect on the peaceful culture for assembly and demonstration," said an official of the Supreme Prosecutors' Office.

"In case they seek another rally, we will actively review banning them. If they push for the banned protests, we plan to order them to dismiss and arrest those who disobey the command," he added.

The organizers of the Hope Bus Campaign, however, refuted charges of violence by saying that private security officers hired by Hyundai Motor shot water cannons and fire extinguishers at them while wielding iron pipes in response to their request for dialogue and interviews with the management.

Irregular workers, hired by a Hyundai Motor subcontractor, have demanded the automaker abide by the 2010 ruling that states contract employees should be considered as permanent workers if they have worked there for more than two years. Hyundai has deferred action, saying the case has not yet legally concluded, as it has been remanded to the high court.

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