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(LEAD) Drive-thru rallies held in Seoul on national holiday amid virus outbreak

All News 15:35 October 03, 2020

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with more details, photos throughout)

SEOUL, Oct. 3 (Yonhap) -- Conservative groups held drive-thru anti-government rallies in southern Seoul on Saturday, a national holiday, amid concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus.

Two separate groups staged rallies involving nine vehicles each on National Foundation Day after a local court conditionally approved such demonstrations under stricter anti-infection measures.

The court allowed nine people -- each in their cars -- to hold a rally for two hours but set forth conditions such as banning the lowering of car windows and the chanting of slogans during the rally.

The demonstrations came as health authorities remain on alert over a potential rebound in virus cases after the Chuseok fall harvest holiday that ran from Wednesday till Friday.

Police stepped up their guards throughout the day to prevent conservative activists from holding abrupt and illegal rallies in central Seoul.

Except for the two drive-thru protests, a court has rejected conservative groups' request to suspend the Seoul municipality's bans on their plans for rallies involving some 1,000 participants or a protest parade with about 200 cars on the national holiday.

Conservative activists hold a drive-thru rally in southern Seoul on Oct. 3, 2020, to call for the resignation of Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae. (Yonhap)

Police buses were placed in lines on the main streets linking Gwanghwamun and City Hall in central Seoul. Subways were not stopping at nearby stations.

Police also set up fences in Gwanghwamun Square where outdoor rallies are often held, denying public access to the public plaza.

"Legal rallies need to be respected as the Constitution stipulates freedom of assembly. But as for illegal demonstrations, police should respond to them with a no-tolerance principle," Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said during his visit to the national police agency.

The government has issued warnings against illegal anti-government rallies planned by some conservative groups on concerns that the mass gatherings could hamper the country's efforts to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

Thousands of people, led by conservative groups, held massive rallies on Aug. 15, the country's Liberation Day, in central Seoul. The protests have been partly blamed for a resurgence in COVID-19 cases since mid-August, with cases tied to the rallies reaching more than 600.

The country's daily infections spiked to triple-digit figures for more than a month from Aug. 14, until they slowed down on the back of tougher virus curbs.

In a preemptive measure, the Seoul city government banned all rallies of 10 or more people and designated parts of central Seoul as no-assembly zones. The capital also banned rallies in the form of car parades.

Under the Level 2 social distancing rules imposed at a nationwide level, outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people are prohibited and indoor meetings of 50 or more are also banned.

Police buses are placed in lines on streets around Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul on Oct. 3, 2020, in a bid to prevent illegal rallies on National Foundation Day. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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