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SEOUL, Dec. 20 (Yonhap) -- Police arrested a second union leader Friday as thousands of rail workers walked off the job for the 12th straight day in protest of what they believe is a government move to privatize the state rail operator.
With a court-issued warrant, police arrested the union leader of the state-run Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL), only identified by his surname Koh, in Daejeon, 150 kilometers south of Seoul, after days of tracking him down.
The arrest came a day after a 47-year-old union leader, only identified by his surname Yoon, was apprehended. Yoon was the first union leader to be nabbed after district courts across the country issued arrest warrants for 25 strike leaders for refusing to respond to summons by prosecutors.
More than 6,500 unionized KORAIL workers launched the strike on Dec. 2 in protest against a government decision to set up a KORAIL subsidiary to run part of the high-speed train services. The union suspects the move would ultimately lead to its privatization and mass layoffs.
Police said they will seek a detention warrant for Yoon to keep him for further questioning.
"We have decided to seek a detention warrant as there is fear that Yoon may flee and the union is continuing with the illegal strike," said a police officer directly involved in the investigation.
Amid the prolonged strike, the management gave an ultimatum to the union, ordering striking members to return to work.
The company reiterated that the subsidiary's establishment has nothing to do with privatization, saying that the new unit will be owned by KORAIL and state-run investors.
The new service will run from Suseo-dong in southern Seoul to the southern provincial city of Busan. After several delays, it is expected to begin operations in 2016.
Despite the union's request to delay issuing a state license for the new rail service, the government said it will grant the license as planned later in the day.
Rival political parties exchanged barbs on the issue during a parliamentary meeting, with the main opposition party raising suspicions over the government's motives.
"Why would the government set up a subsidiary if it has no intention of privatizing the envisioned subsidiary," said Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), who ran for the presidency in last December's election.
Finance Minister Hyun Oh-seok denied the DP's argument, saying that the government has no plan of privatizing the unit and that KORAIL will not end up in the hands of private firms.
"Shares of the new unit will be owned by KORAIL and state-run investors," Hyun told lawmakers.
The ruling Saenuri Party supported the minister's argument, asking the government to clarify once again that the government will not sell its shares to private investors.
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