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Scores of protesters arrested in Ssangyong plant clash

All Headlines 12:19 July 26, 2009

PYEONGTAEK, South Korea, July 26 (Yonhap) -- Scores of demonstrators were arrested after they clashed violently with riot police in a sympathy protest for laid-off workers of the troubled Ssangyong Motor Co., police said Sunday.

Production at Ssangyong's sole plant in this rural town has been paralyzed for two months as nearly 1,000 unionized workers protesting a mass layoff have occupied a paint shop and other facilities. Thousands of riot police who cordoned off the plant have been bracing for a possible raid since last week.

Wielding metal pipes, about 7,000 members of an umbrella labor union and several civic groups faced off with riot police Saturday as they attempted to enter the plant to provide drinking water to the protesting Ssayngyong workers.

The water and gas supply to the plant had been cut in a move to end the Ssangyong workers' occupation.

"About 30 demonstrators were hauled away for breaking the law. Two police motorbikes were also damaged during the clash," police said.

More than 9,000 police were mobilized over the weekend, firing water cannons and tear bombs at the protesters. Most of the activists disbanded voluntarily after failing to enter the plant, police said.

In February, Ssangyong Motor received bankruptcy protection in exchange for implementing a turnaround plan calling for 36 percent of its workforce, or 2,646 employees, to be cut.

Since then, some 1,670 workers have left the company through voluntary retirement plans, while the remaining 976 workers have gone on strike.

On Saturday, a new round of labor-management talks failed to open due to Ssangyong's refusal. The company said it will not come back to the bargaining table until the strikers end their "illegal and violent behavior."

"There is nothing to talk about at the moment," said Park Young-tae, representing Ssangyong management. "We are ready to return to the negotiation table as soon as labor presents a new proposal."

Court-appointed managers at Ssangyong and government officials have warned that the ailing carmaker may become insolvent if the strike continues.

Ssangyong has to submit the turnaround plan to its creditors and a bankruptcy judge by Sept. 15. In the first six months of this year, Ssangyong's auto sales plunged 73.9 percent from the same period last year to 13,020 units.

Ssangyong is still 51-percent owned by China's Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., but the Chinese parent lost management control after Ssangyong entered bankruptcy protection.


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