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Five protesters and a member of a police SWAT team died and 24 others were hospitalized following a violent standoff at a construction site in central Seoul early yesterday.
According to police, protesters took over a five-story structure near the Kukje building and Yongsan train station at 5:30 a.m. Monday, in opposition to ongoing redevelopment of the area. Some squatters demanded higher compensation for their houses and stores, which are to be demolished for a massive development project by the nation’s construction giants - Samsung C&T Corporation, Daelim and Posco.
Police said the demonstrators built a watchtower on the rooftop and armed themselves with Molotov cocktails, bottles of acid, bricks and slingshots. Police issued an ultimatum to the protesters to move out by Monday night or be forcibly removed. Around 6:45 a.m. yesterday, a crane lifted a container box carrying the SWAT teams [the Korea Times notes that it carried 50 men].
“When the SWAT teams tried to enter the watchtower around 7:26 a.m., the demonstrators sprayed paint thinner and threw Molotov cocktails,” Baek Dong-san, chief of Yongsan Police who commanded the operation, said during a press briefing. “The watchtower caught fire and police withdrew. We managed to put out the fire by 8 a.m. and found five bodies, including one police officer.” A further search yielded one more body. Yongsan police said that of the 24 others who were injured during the stand-off, 18 were police officers.It goes on to explain that the squatters group were planning to hold a candlelight vigil at Yongsan Station, and called for an apology from the president. The police painted the demonstrators as unduly violent and said they had no choice but to intervene. More photos of the confrontation and fire can be found here, while a Korea Times article is here. Here's a photo of the building from behind, showing the remains of the watchtower on top.
Kim Nam-hun, a 30-year-old SWAT team member of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, was killed during the operation, police said. The other bodies were not identified, but the National Institute of Scientific Investigation said fingerprints should allow identification by tomorrow.
[...] The police operation resulted in arrest of 25 squatters, and the prosecution is investigating if the National Alliance of Squatters systemically planned the violent demonstration. Of those arrested, only seven actually live or own stores in the area and are eligible for compensation. The rest were members of the group.
According to the Yongsan District Office, the construction site used to be occupied by 434 stores and 456 households. About 80 percent have received compensation and moved out. Plans call for the construction of three skyscrapers for residential and commercial use.There's lots more going on than just this one little redevelopment site (pointed out here). Here is what is going up between Yongsan Station and Hangangno (goodbye Yongsan red light district):