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Police: Ex-President Lee approved violent crackdown on labor unionists

SEOUL, Aug. 28 (UPI) — A police investigation found the South Korean presidential office under former President Lee Myung-bak gave a final approval to allow a harsh crackdown on Ssangyong Motors workers in 2009.

The Korean National Police Agency revealed on Tuesday the government gave the final go-ahead to allow police to deploy riot police, helicopters and use tear gas liquids and taser guns to disperse unionists of Ssangyong Motors, in a briefing on a six-month probe.

Earlier this year, the agency created a committee tasked with investigating alleged human rights violations by police in the Ssangyong Motors strike in 2009.

Employees of the then-struggling motor company, now under Indian company Mahindra & Mahindra ownership, occupied their factory from May to August in 2009, in protest against the company’s decision to lay off workers in a major restructuring plan.

While the company refused to negotiate with employees, the South Korean government deployed riot police to disperse protesters.

Police blocked food and medical aid to the factory while cutting off water and electricity. They carried out the violent crackdown on protesters, using helicopters to drop some 200,000 liters of tear gas liquid, containing cancer-causing chemicals, such as dichloromethane, for two months.

The probe found that the police crackdown on unionists equals the extent of a counterterrorism mission.

Police also created a team and had personnel upload videos and create online comments to stress violence by unionists to influence public opinion.

Even later, police continued to interrupt events, protests and press events, organized by dismissed Ssangyong Motors workers, demanding their reinstatement.

The committee recommended police to apologize to the workers and drop the $ 1.5 million compensation charge filed against them for causing damage to police resources.

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