South Korea labour boss turns himself in weeks after violent rally

SEOUL: The head of one of South Korea's two main labour groups turned himself over to police on Thursday after holing up inside a Buddhist temple for nearly four weeks to evade arrest for organising a violent anti-government protest last month.

Han Sang-gyun, the head of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the more strident of the country's umbrella labour groups, had sought sanctuary at the downtown Seoul temple after speaking at the rally on November 14, where he urged members to protest against the government's labour reform policy.

Last month's rally involved more than 60,000 demonstrators, some of whom wielded steel pipes and clashed with police wearing riot gear, in the biggest and most violent protest since Park Geun-hye became president in early 2013.

"Even if I am arrested today, I will continue the struggle to stop the government's policy to make labour conditions worse," Han said before being taken into police custody, ending a standoff that had seen hundreds of police surround the temple.

Park's conservative government wants to enable employers to dismiss workers based on performance and cap salaries of senior staff to encourage employers to hire younger people.

Han had already been subject to an arrest warrant after police said he and KCTU leadership conspired to stage illegal rallies on May 1.

KCTU has about 626,000 members according to government data. The group puts its membership at 50,000 higher.

Police on Wednesday surrounded the temple to arrest Han but held off after the temple's chief monk persuaded Han to turn himself in.

KCTU has called for a general strike next week and more rallies. A rally it organised last weekend ended without major incident or violence.

It has frequently issued calls for general strikes in recent years, although the only significant action taken has been rotating work stoppages at locations where unionised labour is highly organised.

Park's labour proposal has broad public support. A September Gallup poll of 1,002 respondents showed more than 70 percent supported the plan to make firing easier and to cap the salaries of employees nearing retirement.