(ATTN: UPDATES with police data in last 2 paras)
SEOUL, Oct. 5 (Yonhap) -- The Seoul city government will block all mass rallies on Hangeul Day in an ongoing effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, an official said Monday.
The city government imposed a ban on rallies of 10 or more people in August after mass anti-government rallies on Liberation Day on Aug. 15 were blamed for a spike in coronavirus cases in the country. The ban has since been extended until midnight Sunday.
Park Yoo-mi, a city disease control officer, said during a regular press briefing that there are currently 52 rallies involving 10 or more people planned for the national holiday celebrating the invention of the Korean alphabet, Hangeul, on Friday.
"We plan to consult the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency and jointly respond (to the rallies) at their source," she said, adding that the city government continues to believe in the importance of safeguarding citizens' lives as much as their freedom of assembly.
Rallies on National Foundation Day on Saturday were scaled back as police installed checkpoints at 90 locations in the central Gwanghwamun area and subway trains passed without stopping at nearby stations.
Conservative activists leading the rallies have accused the Moon Jae-in government of using the pandemic as an excuse to crack down on dissent.
One conservative group, made up of participants in the Aug. 15 rallies, reported plans to hold two rallies of 1,000 people each to the police.
"We are reporting rallies for Hangeul Day out of desperation that the only way to confront the oppression of the Moon Jae-in government is through freedom of assembly and association," Choi In-sik, secretary-general of the group, said in a press conference outside Jongno Police Station in central Seoul.
Choi's group had previously planned to hold a mass rally on Saturday.
He said they decided to report plans for two rallies, both in the Gwanghwamun area, expecting them to be banned, and will in fact hold only one.
Choi also denounced what he called inconsistencies in the government's actions as it allowed crowds to gather at tourist spots over the recent holiday.
If the Hangeul Day rallies are banned again, the group will take the case to court, he added.
According to a separate tally released by the police, a total of 1,116 rallies were reported for Friday and 1,089 for the following day.
Of those planned for Friday, 56 involve 10 or more people, and of Saturday's, 54 do. One group has reported plans for a rally of 4,000 people.
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