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Rival parties divided over standoff over Jeju naval base

All Headlines 18:21 August 26, 2011

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Aug. 26 (Yonhap) -- The ruling and opposition parties bickered Friday over a prolonged sit-in against a controversial naval base construction project on the southern island of Jeju, with the ruling party calling for sterner action against the protest and opposition groups urging the release of detained activists.

Village residents and anti-base activists have occupied a naval base construction site in the southern parts of the island since June, arguing the base could set off a regional arms race and damage the scenic resort island's environment.

Tensions over their months-long protest escalated on Wednesday when some 200 Gangjeong Village residents and activists barricaded themselves in the construction site for seven hours to block police from taking custody of five protesters on charges of obstruction of official duty.

The incident angered police chief Cho Huyn-oh, who immediately replaced the local police chief in charge of the town for failing to handle what he called an "illegal protest" and giving in to pressure from protesters.

On Friday, the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) called for the protesters to stop interfering with the construction project.

"(They) should handle the conflicts through legitimate process, immediately ending illegal occupation or physical interference with the construction," GNP floor leader Hwang Woo-yea said in a party meeting.

GNP spokesman Kim Ki-hyun demanded police to take stronger action on "illegal protests," saying authorities should not be overly worried about unfair criticism over excessive use of force.

On the other hand, five opposition parties urged law enforcement agencies to release those under custody, asserting their freedom of assembly.

Sohn Hak-kyu, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), expressed concern over the rising tension in Gangjeong Village, urging the government not to unilaterally push through the controversial project.

Once completed in 2014 as planned, the naval base will be home to about 20 naval vessels and two 150,000-ton cruisers. According to the defense ministry, about 14 percent of construction work has been completed.

ejkim@yna.co.kr
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