May 31, 2006

US refuses visas for S.Korean trade protesters

SEOUL (Reuters) - More than 150 South Korean anti-free
trade protesters who staged violent rallies in the past have
been refused visas to enter the United States next week, an
activist said on Wednesday.

Only about 50 members of a coalition of unionists, farm
activists, and students will take part in rallies in Washington
that will start on June 4 to coincide with the first round of
free trade talks between South Korea and the United States.

South Korean protesters have a reputation for unruly and
violent protests, clashing with police over issues from labor
disputes to the opening of their country's rice market.

"We didn't exactly say the purpose of the trip was
demonstrations, but a lot of the names were already known," an
official at the Korean Alliance against the KorUS FTA said by
telephone, requesting anonymity.

The rallies will be peaceful and strictly lawful, he said.

In December, Hong Kong arrested nearly 1,000 protesters
during a World Trade Organization meeting, most of them South
Korean farmers and unionists, after violent demonstrations that
often overshadowed the talks. Charges against all of them were
later dropped for insufficient evidence.

Two South Korean farmers died of injuries suffered during
clashes with police in Seoul last year, and another died after
swallowing pesticide.

The South Korean government has warned anti-free trade
activists not to travel to the United States, saying it would
not be able to step in if they broke U.S. laws.

The two countries, which had two-way trade of more than
$72.5 billion in 2004, exchanged the first draft statements of
their free trade agreement (FTA) negotiating positions on May

Seoul has said it will seek to exclude some farm products
from market opening or delay tariff cuts to minimize the blow
to South Korean farmers.

Farmers say a free trade pact with the United States would
destroy their livelihoods and want a compensation package
before talks begin.