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South Korean police may detain more demonstrators behind violent protests

S. Korean police say they are looking for the ringleaders of anti-government protests that rocked the country on Saturday. More than 50 people have already been detained in the nation's biggest protests in seven years.

South Korean police said on Sunday that they were searching for people believed to be behind violent anti-government protests a day earlier, as protest organizers accused the government of using excessive violence to squash opposition voices, AP reported.

Some 70,000 people took to the streets of Seoul on Saturday to speak out against conservative labor reform and state-issued history books. The security forces fired tear gas and water cannon, while protesters smashed windows of police vehicles and hit officers on top of buses with poles.

The main opposition party New Politics Alliance for Democracy spurned suggestions that it was behind the violence and in a statement accused police of being "excessively violent."

Authorities mobilized 20,000 riot police to counter the march against the conservative president, Park Geun-hye, and her government.

Demonstrators, many of them masked, chanted "Park Geun-hye, step down" and "No to layoffs" as they occupied a major downtown street.

Union worries

Saturday's rally united the supporters of various labor, agricultural and civil organizations protesting the government's drive to change labor laws, open protected markets for some agricultural goods and impose state-issued school textbooks in 2017.

The proposed labor laws would allow companies to keep wages low and fire workers and activists, according to the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU).

On Saturday, KCTU activists scuffled with scores of plainclothes policemen who tried to arrest the confederation's president, Han Sang-goon, during a news conference.

Seoul authorities had issued an arrest warrant for Han after he failed to appear in court in connection with his role in organizing a May protest that turned violent.

Fear of distorting history

The government's bid to issue history textbooks for middle and high schools also sparked strong criticism in the Asian nation.

South Korea was ruled by Park Geun-hye's father, military dictator Park Chung-hee, in the 1960s and 1970s.

Although the books have not yet been written, activists fear that the Park administration could attempt to whitewash the transgressions of her father's rule.

Saturday's demonstration was the biggest since 2008, when about 100,000 people marched in Seoul against resuming the import of beef from the US, while the public was still worried over mad cow disease.

cw/tj (AFP, AP)

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