Main opposition party ends 'tent protest,' vows to carry on fight

SEOUL, Nov. 10 (Yonhap) -- The main opposition party on Sunday announced it will end its 101-day-long "tent protest" but vowed to expand its struggle to resolve the controversy surrounding last year's presidential race with the help of civic and religious groups.

Lee Yong-deuk, a member on the executive council of the Democratic Party (DP), told reporters that the present strategy of trying to get the ruling camp to address suspicions that the country's spy agency and the military interfered with the election has made no headway.

"To overcome this impasse, we've decided to expand the 'front' by working with religious and civic groups to restore democracy and push for reform of the country's intelligence services and military," the politician said.

The DP first set up the tents in front of Seoul City Hall on Aug. 1 to draw attention to its allegations that agents of the National Intelligence Service used the Internet to attack the opposition presidential candidate Moon Jae-in ahead of the Dec. 19 polls.

The critical election ended with Park Geun-hye from the conservative Saenuri Party taking office in February.

The tent had been used as a sort of base camp and symbol of resistance since opposition lawmakers declared they would return to parliamentary proceedings on Sept. 23.

In addition, growing criticism within the party about the tent protest's effectiveness and fatigue to party officials may have contributed to the decision to end the protest. The party must pay 18 million won (US$17,000) to the municipal government for unlawful occupation of city property.

Meanwhile, other parliamentary observers said that the move to expand the fight on the election issue will likely bring a spike in clashes between Saenuri and DP in the coming days.

The DP's move includes working with independent lawmaker Ahn Chul-soo to get the ruling camp to appoint a special prosecutor to check into allegations if election irregularities will trigger a tough response, they said.

The presidential official of Cheong Wa Dae and Saenuri brushed off such allegations as willful misinterpretations and exaggerations of illegal actions taken by a handful of people.

The conservative party countered with its own claims that the 140,000-strong Korean Government Employees' Union (KGEU) systematically supported the DP's candidate Moon Jae-in in the critical race. State prosecutors have already searched the KGEU's office to collect related evidence.

Under South Korean law, employees of the National Intelligence Service, the military and the KGEU are barred from openly taking sides in elections.

In response, the DP hinted it could tie the special prosecutor demand with the budget review process.

If this occurs, the budget may not be passed within the year, which could cause complications for the running of the country and raise social uncertainty that is not good for the economy.

There have also been speculations that opposition party lawmakers may not attend President Park's speech at the National Assembly set for mid-November, which could further strain the political climate and hinder talks.

Besides this standoff, the move by prosecutors to summon three Saenuri lawmakers for the release of confidential documents related to the 2007 inter-Korean summit can trigger renewed political infighting.

Saenuri argued that then-President Roh Moo-hyun effectively "surrendered" the sea demarcation line in the Yellow Sea to the North, and the late chief executive and his aides tried to cover it up by hiding documents. The DP said all such allegations are untrue and politically motivated to tarnish Roh and the opposition party.

<All rights reserved by Yonhap News Agency>