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Asia

Welcome to Seoul: Big preparations ahead of G20

Leaders from the world’s top economies arrive in South Korea ahead of the G20 summit. With the spotlight on South Korea, the government there has taken a number of steps to ensure the forum goes off without a hitch.

The G20 summit takes place in Seoul on November 11–12

The G20 summit takes place in Seoul on November 11–12

South Korea is in the grips of G20 fever.Television ads play around the clock proclaiming Korea’s readiness to host the summit. Banners hung around Seoul urge residents to say hello and be extra courteous to the visiting foreigners.

The South Korean government is taking preparations for the G20 very seriously. It’s the largest international gathering the country has held since the 2002 World Cup. This week’s summit also marks the first time a non-G8 and Asian nation has hosted the economic forum.

South Korea proud to host G20

And considering that several decades ago, South Korea was one of the world’s poorest nations, its quick rise to the top makes it a model for other nations to emulate, says UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

The former South Korean Foreign Minister says he’s proud of his nation’s accomplishments that have been made in the light of its division and war with North Korea.

Activists demonstrate in Seoul to draw attention to global poverty issues

Activists demonstrate in Seoul to draw attention to global poverty issues

He spoke during a press briefing today in Seoul: "I think we meet at a critical moment, the spotlight is on Korea and is the first G20 summit in an emerging market economy. Korea is a bridge between the developed and developing world. This role has never been more necessary and important and so there is something very special about this G20 moment."

Activists protest against "unequal economic policies"

But some opposed to the G20 are using this moment to raise attention what they call its flawed economic policies.

An umbrella organization representing 80 South Korean labor and civic groups says the top economies have done little to help the world’s poor and offset global unemployment, which they say is the highest in years.

Chun Hyoung Baek of the civic group People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy delivered the activists’ official statement. She spoke through an interpreter: "We call upon the G20 to regulate financial capital, which have brought suffering to so many people. We call on the G20 to tax speculators and use the revenues to expand welfare. The G20 has revamped the international monetary fund whose structural adjustment programs have devastated the lives of people all around the world."

And now as the G20 gets under way, Korean and foreign activists are taking their message to the streets of Seoul. Earlier this week, tens of thousands of protesters rallied against the G20. They were met by squads of Korean riot police, who have been put on high alert ahead of the summit.

Security tight in Seoul

Some reports say the police used pepper spray to hold demonstrators back. To keep protests like this under control and away from the G20 venues, Seoul authorities have created a two kilometer buffer zone around the convention center. It’s the largest security operation the nation has undertaken, according to the National Police Agency.

But South Korea’s measures have only aggravated some protestors. Kim Young Hoon, president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, says that President Lee Myung Bak is denying their right to protest during the summit.

Violence between trade unions and police has erupted in the past during anti free trade rallies. Police have been criticized for turning water cannons on protestors.

South Korea has undertaken the largest-ever security operation

South Korea has undertaken the largest-ever security operation

And Kim says that he cannot ensure that his members won’t resort to violence again, if police prevent them from demonstrating: "Excessive use of force to crack down on demonstrations and rallies, to crack down and oppress our rights, will induce or provoke the demonstrations to become violent, that nobody wants."

South Korean riot police are prepared to confront activist groups on Thursday, the first day of the G20 summit, as protestors plan to march through the capital.

Author: Jason Strother
Editor: Arun Chowdhury

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