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Blocking of streets to prevent riots ruled unconstitutional

All Headlines 17:36 June 30, 2011

SEOUL, June 30 (Yonhap) -- South Korean police's anti-riot measure of building walls of buses to block protesters' movements violates the protesters' constitutional rights to free movement, the constitutional court ruled on Thursday.

The ruling came after nine activists of a leading Seoul-based civic group filed a complaint in 2009 against the police chief, claiming it was unconstitutional that the police built a tight line of buses to seal off a large public square in downtown Seoul from massive rallies after the death of former liberal President Roh Moo-hyun.

Police had claimed the move was intended to effectively prevent gatherings to mourn the death of Roh from escalating into illegal and violent anti-government rallies. Tens of thousands of people took part in the gatherings.

In ruling that the measure was "unconstitutional," with a 7-2 vote, the court said, "Anti-riot measures should be taken at the most minimum possible level in accordance with individual and specific circumstances."

"(But) the measure taken at that time could hardly be seen as the most necessary minimum level," the court said, adding the building of the bus wall violated citizens' rights to free movement.

Roh jumped to death from a cliff near his regional retirement house on March 23 that year as prosecutors moved to launch an investigation on him and his family over allegations the former president took massive amounts of money as bribes.

After Roh's death, a massive number of people flooded into memorial altars set up in several sites in central Seoul. In order to subdue the movement, police lined up batches of riot police buses back-to-back in order to build walls, mainly around the plaza in front of Seoul's city hall, where massive gatherings often take place.

Police officials, however, voiced discontent over the court's decision, saying without the preventive measure, they may have faced difficulties fighting angry protesters.

"It's hard to find a more effective anti-riot measure than the bus walling in case protesters attempt to march toward the presidential Blue House and other important public institutions," a police official said.

The decision may not be interpreted as an order to immediately stop such riot-suppression measures, he added.

pbr@yna.co.kr
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