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Tensions Soar as Korean Women Try to Stop Destruction of “Wonder of Nature” for Military Base
WASHINGTON - March 8 - Today is International Women’s Day and women are leading protests in South Korea. CNN is reporting: “Tensions soared on the South Korean island of Jeju on Thursday as hundreds of residents, activists and priests protest against the building of a naval base. About 500 supporters of the project also arrived Thursday on the second day of key construction work.
“Crews have blown up rocky areas with dynamite to prepare for a caisson and other structures that will help with the construction of the docks. Protests against the building of the naval base started seven years ago over fears of damage to the environment and nature on the island. Protesters say it would also threaten the peace on the island, parts of which are UNESCO world heritage sites, and affect tourism.” http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/08/world/asia/south-korea-protests/index.html
CHRISTINE AHN, christineahn at mac.com, http://www.kpolicy.org, https://twitter.com/#!/christineahn
Ahn is executive director of the Korea Policy Institute and can connect media to people on the ground and policy analysts. She said today: “Mayhem has broken out as government forces are arresting activist, there are members of parliament protesting as well.”
The group released a statement: “Despite an official appeal from Jeju Governor Woo to the South Korean Navy to halt the blast of the sacred Gureombi volcanic coastline on Jeju Island, the Navy and Samsung Corporation have proceeded to detonate 800 kilograms of explosives near the seashore. The blasting is estimated to last for five months using 43 tons of explosives.
“The Gureombi coastline is a continuous volcanic rock formation along Gangjeong village, along the southern part of Jeju Island, which is approximately 50 miles south of the Korean peninsula. Yesterday, Governor Woo issued an emergency written appeal to Seoul citing concern about the environmental destruction and likely clashes between village protestors and police. Several members of South Korean Parliament and opposition party leaders are now in Gangjeong village after submitting a bill to immediately halt construction.
“An intense standoff is now underway between Gangjeong villagers and hundreds of police in riot gear who were shipped from the Korean mainland to suppress the peaceful protests. Already dozens of arrests have been made, mostly of women who chained themselves to trucks and other barricades to block Samsung vehicles transporting the explosives. Activists have also boarded kayaks to block Daelim ships from dredging the coastline, which is home to … endangered marine life, such as the red-footed crab and soft coral reef.
“The police have erected double layers of three-meter-high razor wire fences around the construction site to prevent people from entering,’ said Benjamin Monnet, a French peace activist who was in the kayak in the early morning. ‘There were 17 ships, including three equipped with a radar system. It looked like they were ready for war.’ …
“‘Jeju isn’t just any island,’ explains American actor Robert Redford. ‘It has just been selected as one of the “Seven Wonders of Nature” for its breathtaking beauty, unique traditions and sacred groves. Of the world’s 66 UNESCO Global Geoparks, nine are on Jeju Island.’
“For the past five years, Gangjeong villagers have been waging a nonviolent campaign against the construction of the naval base. In a referendum, 94 percent of the villagers voted against the base. Despite these and other democratic efforts, the South Korean government has arrested 350, fined and beaten nonviolent protestors for “obstructing business.”
“Many international arms experts suspect that the naval base will be in the service of the U.S. missile defense system as part of the U.S. pivot towards the Asia Pacific in its efforts to contain China. Villagers say they are the unfortunate target of an arms race between the U.S. and China.”