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10,000 Riot Police Storm Strikers At Shipyard With AM-Korea-Roh, Bjt

March 30, 1989

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ Ten thousand riot police firing tear gas stormed the Hyundai shipyard before dawn Thursday and battled striking workers who had been occupying parts of the sprawling facility for three months, police said.

Police fired hundreds of tear gas shells before charging the yard at Ulsan on the coast about 150 miles southeast of Seoul, according to Yonhap, the national news agency.

Riot police in green combat fatigues and visored helmets knocked down barricades erected by the strikers at the country’s biggest shipyard, it said.

About 1,000 of the attacking police used boats to get into the shipyard from the sea.

Police officials said about 200 strikers were arrested and 700 more strikers were surrounded by riot troopers in a company dormitory. At least one police officer was injured, the officials said.

″Why are police using force to stop our right to strike? We have been trying to talk to management, but there has been no response,″ one of the strikers said in a TV interview aired on the Korean Broadcasting System.

The government ordered police to end the strike by militant workers who had repeatedly stalled operations at the shipyard. Senior government ministers in a meeting in Seoul on Wednesday ordered police to occupy the shipyard.

About 1,000 militant members of an independent labor union had been staging protests at the yard, which employs about 22,000 workers. Strikers are demanding higher pay and recognition of their union.

The government intervened after repeated requests from Hyundai.

Authorities deployed 14,000 riot police around the shipyard and started to move in after midnight. Some strikers left the shipyard as police began blocking the main gates.

Hundreds of strikers wearing construction helmets and armed with iron bars held off police for about five hours by threatening to ignite a pile of 60 propane gas containers. Some strikers were armed with homemade flame throwers made from welding kits, but police said they were not used.

Strikers set fire to two of the propane gas tanks when police attacked, but troopers put out the fire with a fire engine and there was no explosion, police said.

President Roh Tae-woo’s government has warned it will deal severely with militant workers who have staged a series of often violent strikes.

The government had urged companies to settle labor disputes peacefully without official interference. But government officials now fear the strikes will damage the national economy.

Hyundai has refused to recognize the militant union, and clashes broke out previously at the Ulsan yard between strikers and pro-management workers. The company said the protests were costing up to $6 million a day in lost business.

Korean news reports said most workers at the shipyard wanted to work.

Update hourly