Park vows not to seek unprincipled compromise over rail strike

SEOUL, Dec. 23 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye said Monday she won't paper over problems just because it is difficult to resolve them, a remark seen as showing she has no intention of backing down over an unprecedentedly long rail strike.

Park made the remark during a weekly meeting with senior secretaries as the rail standoff showed no signs of ending amid the union's deep distrust of a government promise not to privatize a planned subsidiary of the state rail monopoly.

"We are in an inconvenient and difficult situation. But if we put up with and get over this period well, it will help us harden the ground for sustainable development of our economy and society," she said. "If we paper over this with an unprincipled compromise, we can't guarantee our economic and social future."

The remark came despite rising opposition criticism of the government after it sent thousands of riot police raiding the headquarters of the more militant one of South Korea's two umbrella labor organizations on Sunday in an attempt to arrest strike leaders believed to be holed up there.

The surprise operation ended without any arrest. It only exacerbated the standoff because it was the first time riot police have barged into the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions headquarters. Labor organizations and the opposition parties have denounced the raid as oppression against labor.

More than 8,700 workers of the state-run Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL) walked off their jobs on Dec. 9 in protest against a plan to establish a KORAIL subsidiary to run part of high-speed train services. The union suspects the move would ultimately lead to its privatization.

The government has repeatedly assured that it has no intention to privatize the planned subsidiary and promised to revoke the subsidiary's rail service license if its stakes are sold to private sectors. But labor leaders, opposition parties and other critics say they can't buy the assurances.

About 1,100 strikers have since returned to work, but rail services remain partially disrupted as most train drivers remain off their jobs. Officials say the strike is already taking a toll on the economy and would caused greater inconveniences if further prolonged.

As a solution to the standoff, the main opposition Democratic Party has demanded that the National Assembly make a law banning rail privatization. But leaders of the ruling Saenuri Party said the demand is unacceptable because such a law conflicts with free trade agreements that South Korea has with other nations.

Rep. Hwang Woo-yea, chairman of the ruling party, instead proposed that the ruling and opposition parties pass a joint parliamentary resolution against rail privatization. He also sought to defend Sunday's police raid as inevitable law enforcement.

"There is no justification anymore to continue the strike under the pretext of opposition to privatization," Hwang said during a party meeting. He also accused the DP of denouncing what he calls Sunday's "legitimate" police raid in an attempt to capitalize on the rail strike for political gains.

Opposition reaction to Hwang's proposal was not immediately available.

DP leader Kim Han-gil denounced the police raid as symbolic of the "uncommunicative" nature of the government of President Park Geun-hye. He also reiterated the party's call for anti-privatization legislation.

"Should the words of the president and the government that they won't push for privatization prove true, there is no reason not to resolve the situation through dialogue," Kim said. "We can resolve the situation with legislation banning privatization."

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