(ATTN: UPDATES with latest info in paras 5-9)
SEOUL, Oct. 20 (Yonhap) -- Unionists of a militant umbrella labor organization took to the streets in central Seoul on Wednesday as part of a one-day general strike, some of them clashing with police trying to block their march.
The protesters affiliated with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) poured onto the streets in downtown en masse around 1:30 p.m. and began marching toward Seodaemun Station, holding flags and banners calling for labor rights.
Some of them scuffled with police trying to prevent them from moving to the rally site.
Police mobilized about 12,000 personnel and set up fences and bus walls in central Seoul to prevent the rally.
The strike was held despite the government's call for restraint amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unionized members called for guaranteeing workers' rights and ensuring better working conditions, as they sought to bring labor issues to the forefront in the run-up to the 2022 presidential elections.
The exact number of participants in the rally was not available, but at least 27,000 unionists joined the protest in downtown Seoul, according to the KCTU.
The labor group also staged large-scale protest rallies in over 10 cities and provinces across the country.
The government estimated about 50,000 unionists took part in the rallies nationwide, some 5 percent of the group's 1.1 million members, but the KCTU put the estimated tally at around 80,000.
The government and the police have warned of stern action against KCTU's rallies, saying the gatherings could hamper efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Under the current Level 4 social distancing rules imposed in Seoul and the greater capital area, all social rallies, except for essential corporate or official purposes, are prohibited due to infection concerns.
"We will disperse the crowd if any illegal acts happen during the event," Choi Kwan-ho, the chief of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, said Tuesday.
The KCTU said it will comply with the group's internal antivirus guidelines and put in efforts to finish the walkout in safety and peace.
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