The Deadly Face of Development: Struggle Against Evictions in Korea

On January 20th, an illegally and incompetently conducted raid on activists and tenants protesting their forced eviction from central Seoul left 6 dead. This incident ignited immediate and continuing demonstrations against police violence, massive redevelopment, and the administration that has exacerbated both of these issues. South Korea's redevelopment projects have always met with fierce resistance, as landless poor were sacrificed for the profits of wealthy conglomerates. This violent crackdown in Yongsan neighborhood, however, has lead to an unprecedented show of support among diverse populations in solidarity with those struggling for housing and survival.

On Monday, January 19th, evictee-protesters members from Jun Chul Yun, or the Federation Against House Demolition, including tenants from the neighborhood as well as other areas, occupied a five story building in Yongsan4ga neighborhood and assembled a defensive shelter on the roof. Roof-top access was blocked to prevent the police from removing them. The evictee-protesters prepared themselves for an occupation and struggle, supplied with, among other items, paint thinner and molotov cocktails.

A 1,500 strong police force was dispatched to disperse about 50 protesters. At 10pm, the night before the police raid, "contract workers" hired by the landowners, referred to by many as "construction thugs" for their traditional role in threatening and attacking evictees, gathered on the second floor of the building. The police threatened to use force against the protestors unless they ended their sit-in. In an apparent attempt to intimidate the protesters, the construction thugs set fire to used tires on the third floor of the building.

At 6am, Tuesday the 20th, the police sent a SWAT team into the building, and mobilized three water trucks to spray the roof with water. In an unprecedentedly short period of time for dealing with protests and sit-ins, a SWAT team was deployed in an "anti-terror" operation. According to Yongsan District police chief Baek Dong-san, they took such swift action because the protesters continued hurling cocktails, bricks and golf balls and spraying acid at officers and passers-by. There were 42 activists on the roof. Access to the roof being blocked off from inside the building, the police used a crane to lift the SWAT team above the roof in a metal storage container unit. The police sprayed the roof from the container box with a water hose, while the protesters resisted, throwing molotov cocktails. At 7:30, a fire, of unknown origins broke out within the makeshift fort. The police continued to spray water cannons and hoses at the roof, the water mixing with paint thinner and spreading the fire throughout the building. The smoke grew thicker and flames bigger, and protesters struggled to evacuate the shed. As the shed filled with water, the paint-thinner, being lighter than water, floated on the surface and prevented the fire from being extinguished. Cans of paint thinner were seen being frantically thrown out of small windows in the shed, in an attempt to prevent the growth of the fire. One protester, seeking to flee the flames, hung from a window, eventually falling four floors to the ground. He suffered severe injuries from the fall, as the police had not prepared any mattresses around the building. The fire was ultimately extinguished by 8am. Five protesters and a police officer died. The cause of death of all six individuals is under investigation.

Lies and Crimes

Since the incident, numerous accusations have been made against Kim Seok-ki, the Seoul police commissioner, including allegations of excessive police force, tactical errors and lying to the public about the operation.

In initial statements following the attack, the Seoul police station denied the involvement of private security personnel, "construction thugs", in the operation. According to recordings of police radio transmissions, officers communicated directly with the construction thugs, providing them with shields, permitting them to light fires, and directing them to remove obstacles from the building's floors to facilitate access to the roof.

The police claimed to have taken all safety precautions during the deadly raid, but numerous facts suggest to the contrary. According to some observers, the police used the container to ram the shelter, shaking the structure and spreading the fire throughout. Police radio transmissions also revealed that when some officers warned that the water cannons were exacerbating the fire, they were ordered to continue spraying. The nonstop blasting of water hoses both intensified the fire as well as making it difficult for the protesters to escape.

In a report to the national assembly the police department claimed that they had nine fire trucks, two chemical fire trucks, and five ambulances prepared at the scene. But the fire department reported that there were only two fire engines at the scene in advance, and that they sent chemical fire trucks without police request after the fire had started.

Family members also condemn the police for conducting autopsies without their consent, contending that they cannot trust a biased police autopsy conducted in secret.


The evening of the 20th saw intense confrontations between the police and protesters demanding that justice be done. Members from anti-eviction groups struggled along-side students and activists who had been active during 2008's candlelight protest movement. Violence broke out as protesters threw rocks and bricks at the police.

Since then, there have been vigils and marches on a daily basis, including the lunar new year holidays. The 23rd of January saw around 3,000 people gather at Seoul Station, who, breaking through the police line, marched through central Seoul. The 31st saw over 8 thousand people gather in a plaza, surrounded by 10 thousand riot police. Five people were arrested during clashes with the police, when the crowd attempted to march to another part of the city.


Yong-san4ga is a neighborhood located in central Seoul, nestled between the Han river to the south and a US army base to the north. Real estate anywhere around central Seoul is very high, and the land speculation caused by the anticipated US base relocation has made the area especially attractive to investors.

Samsung, Posco, and Daelim, three of Korea's powerful "chaebols", or international conglomerates, received the development rights to "Yongsan Newtown". They will make an expected 4 billion US dollars in profits from the redevelopment and sale of the land, while the compensation given to most shop owners wasn't enough to relocate their business an start anew.

"Those who come to the District Office demanding the ridiculous won't be treated as democratic citizens, please have some restraint." (banner hung by the Yongsan District Chairman criticizing the residents protesting their eviction)

For over a year, tenants living in the re-development area requested the Yongsan District Office to provide the temporary housing and appropriate protection, but were denied opportunities for discussion or negotiation. During this process, private security personnel hired by the redevelopment cooperative threatened residents, vandalizing stores and homes, even sexually harassing them.

One business owner lost his customers after rotten fish was repeatedly placed near his restaurant. However, the police took no action against the construction thugs. Out of the original 890 tenants, 763 abandoned their homes or businesses due to the thugs' violence and pressure from the Redevelopment Cooperative.

Redevelopment History

The process of redevelopment in present day South Korea involves a complex web of relationships, some open and some obscure, between giant business conglomerates and government, wealthy landowners and hired thugs, low-income tenants and the police.

From the 1950's to the 70's the Seoul Metropolitan Government utilized eviction-centered-redevelopment policies, where the government removed residents directly by force. The strong reaction against redevelopment and the growing anti-eviction movement pressed the government to resort to more sophisticated methods. The joint-redevelopment policy appeared in the 1980's as a strategy to disengage the government, superficially, from the eviction and redevelopment process. Likewise, the new system pit poor tenants and owners against each other, thereby diminishing the potential for an urban social movement that threatened the government's legitimacy.

Land owners within the redevelopment zone are persuaded to form a Redevelopment Cooperative. This cooperative run by land owners chooses a construction company to carry out the compensation of households and take responsibility of vacating the land of all residents. This "privatized redevelopment" decreases government involvement and encourages profit-making by the construction companies.

Current President Lee Myung-bak, whose nickname is "The Bulldozer", is a former CEO of Hyudae and was the political architect of the "revitalization" of the Cheongyae river, which included the violent removal of poor residents and vendors. Lee changed the city's redevelopment policy while mayor of Seoul, easing regulation so that now in Seoul alone, there are around 200 redevelopment projects underway in areas that house around 400,000 people.

New Policy of Swift Retaliation against Dissent

Kim Seok-ki, the Seoul Metropolitan police commissioner responsible for the operation, was recently appointed by president Lee Myung-bak as the next commissioner general of the National Police Agency. Like Myung-bak, who is known for manufacturing politically strategic spectacles of power, many see this unprecedentedly harsh and swift crackdown as an attempt to bolster his status as he ascends to the nation's highest police rank. That the raid happened within 25 hours after the sit-in began reflects the Lee Administration's policy towards dissent. Lee Myung-bak's Grand National Party, or "Han Nara Dang", has been described as pushing the clock back in its approach to handling civil unrest. The major themes of this policy: no negotiation and swift, oppressive action. Other examples of this impatience and immediate retaliation against dissenting voices include Minerva, an online economic analyst who grew famous due to his accurate economic predictions and criticism of government's economic policy. He was arrested on Jan. 7th, accused of spreading false rumors of government intervention in the exchange market.

During the summer of 2008, frustration with the Lee administration was unleashed during the so-called candle light protests, where massive grassroots mobilization met with equally great repression.

South Korea was requested twice by the Committee on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to provide protection to victims of forced evictions.

photos: images of demolition and thug graffiti

videos: Police Crackdown and Fire 1 | Video of Crackdown and Fire 2 | video critical of protesters | January 20 Night Protest

Call for Urgent Action

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Thug Graffiti

imc-korea 03.Feb.2009 17:46

more photos at:

Yongsan Resisting Tenants: 'Falsely Accused, Nowhere to Go'

no chr.! 06.Feb.2009 14:56

Opinion/testimony by Park Tae-wook (17 years old student at Gwacheon high school):

On Jan. 20, 2009, just six days before (Lunar) New Year's Day, there was a tragic incident that happened in the Yongsan area of Seoul. Even now, two weeks later, this topic is a hot issue in Korea. Many believe that this is the result born from the bad rule of the president, Lee Myung-bak.

At Yongsan, for about a year now, there has been talk of redeveloping that part of the city. For the past couple months, construction workers or so-called "service gangsters," roamed the neighborhood and made people fearful.

What they did was unforgivable. They say they first tried to negotiate with the residents, but as we all know, they failed. Then, they tried another method.

This time, they not only instilled fear in the residents, but some actually hammered down brick walls, broke windows, made threats and in some cases, assaulted the residents. It didn't finish in one day, however. They came back the next day, and the next day and the day after that. Again, they made threats to the residents. After days of this kind of harassment, some residents packed up their belongings and left. Others remained and hoped that someone would speak up for them.

As days went by with no change, the residents were getting tired. Everyday "service gangsters" would come to their houses and mock them in every possible way.

Of course it is shocking to believe any of this is happening. One might ask, "Why stay there and wait for harm? Why not leave?" If they would do just that, this wouldn't have been the problem. But the residents had a lot to say to the world.

As things got worse, more people started moving out of their cozy homes into nearby parks or deserted fields. They made themselves comfortable, if there was any comfort, by raising up tents and sleeping inside makeshift houses.

Finally, when only a few houses were left, they decided to carry out violent protests -- putting their lives on the line. Some of them started to go into deserted buildings and constructed double and triple level barricades. They stocked up on food and water. That was the start of the "rebellion" by the residents against the city and the construction companies. Mostly men, they locked themselves in buildings and refused to come out.

Since there were barricades, no one except those who lived in the buildings knew the way up. These men were prepared. Whenever gangsters or police tried to find a way in, they would tighten their barriers. In one news article, they said they even had air rifles, Molotov cocktails, paint thinner and other materials that meant strong resistance.

As days passed, tensions grew. Finally, on Jan. 20, the SWAT division of the police mobilized. By 6 a.m., these squads surrounded one particular building with angry residents in it. These policemen tried to force their way into the building and in doing so, clashed with the residents.

The angry residents had already spread paint thinner on the floors and stairs. The police were informed about this and were supposed to take heed. However, without taking any notice of the danger, the police charged into the building and collided head to head with the residents.

In the process, a fire erupted from somewhere in the building. The few people who were still in the building had nowhere to go. They knew this was the end of the protest. Some actually jumped from the windows, breaking a leg or an arm. The few who got out of the building by way of the stairs were immediately arrested. Still others were rescued by firemen.

However, there were some who did not make it out safely. These men were the five residents who passed away in the fire. In the aftermath, the police did not admit to any mistakes on their part. They blamed only the protesters.

The police even accused the residents of starting the fire. How can this be? Would the residents start a fire and die in it with their protest in vain? No. Then what are they saying?

The answer is this: the police are lying to the citizens.

In reaction to the police's version of events, people from all over Korea stood on their feet and marched into demonstrations. They made banners and shouted "Even apologizing won't be enough," "What is the president doing?" and other phrases that disapproved of the police and the president.

The police and higher ups were taken aback by the reaction of citizens. Kim Suk-ki, who ordered the SWAT action, tried to defuse the situation with words, but the citizens were not tricked. They demanded his resignation followed by a detailed investigation in this matter.

With the investigation still underway, the citizens are still angry. Frequent demonstrations are likely to be seen throughout Korea. With this matter being a hot issue, people are starting to worry other related incidents and this issue is growing by the day. For now, the best solution to this problem is the nation's full out support for the unfortunate residents of Yongsan.

Mass Protests Against the Govt. Are Continuing!

no chr.! 09.Feb.2009 13:57

Yesterday for the 3rd time since the Yongsan Massacre thousands (according to the police: 2,500, according to the organizers and the independent media: 5,000) of political, labour, human right and student activists, together with masses of "ordinary" citizens, protested in downtown Seoul against the S.K. government.

Today's S. Korean "left"-liberal daily newspaper The Hankyoreh reported following:

Police and protesters clash at Yongsan memorial events..

Police and civilians clashed on Saturday during a memorial event for the victims of last month’s police raid on anti-urban development protesters in Seoul’s Yongsan district. The gathering was the third of its kind held in central Seoul following the Yongsan tragedy, which left six people dead.

On Saturday, police arrested six people during the event organized by the People’s Committee to Protest against the Murderous Clampdown on the Yongsan Evictees, including a 25-year-old student only identified by his surname, Park.

Protesters were calling on the government to step up efforts to find and punish those responsible for the Yongsan tragedy.

Police sealed off Chonggye Plaza, where the memorial event was scheduled to be held, leaving protest participants to gather in front of the Korea Deposit Insurance Corp. at around 4 p.m. Approximately 5,000 people joined the event, and over 9,000 police officers were deployed, including members of the riot police. After the memorial event ended, participants attempted to move toward Cheong Wa Dae at around 5:50 p.m., when they clashed with police who were trying to stop them.

In Jongno and Myeong-dong, scuffles between protesters and police also broke out, with police firing water paint at protest participants. The crowd dispersed at around 10 p.m., and approximately 200 college students who had been protesting at Lotte Department store also departed the scene at around 11 p.m..

A memorial event was also held at 7 p.m. on Sunday. Earlier in the day, the People’s Committee had displayed pictures related to the Yongsan tragedy in central Seoul. The committee said it is planning to organize a large-scale demonstration on Monday, when the prosecution is scheduled to unveil the results of its investigation into the Yongsan incident. (*)


* Surprise, Surprise! "No police executives will be indicted over the fatal crackdown on squatters in Yongsan last month, according to an investigation the prosecution wrapped up today. But 20 of the demonstrators - all of whom were rallying over what "insufficient compensation" for an urban renewal project - were indicted for obstructing official duties", Korea Herald reported today.

As usual: The VICTIMS are always to blame!
Just remember the horrible fire disaster in Yeosu, where two years ago 10 migrant workers were killed in the local deportation center.  http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2007/2279
Back then the "authorities" (immigration office/ministry of justice..) also ultimately blamed the victims to be responsible for the tragedy.

DP Calls for Reinvestigating Yongsan Clash

For more about the protest demo last Sat.

"Police Were Just Doing There Job" says Korean Courts

eemoogee 10.Feb.2009 12:36

The weird logic of the Korean Prosecution

On February 9th, The Korean Prosecution has announced their biased investigation result of the Youngsan forced eviction and the death of 6 people. ‘The police are not guilty; only guilty are the evictees’ was their point. That means, the murderer is not guilty; guilty is the victim. Last January 20th, six people including 5 evictee-sit-in strugglers and one police officer were killed during the police’s unprecedentedly harsh crackdown mobilizing the SWAT team and thousands of police troops. However, the prosecution brought the charge only to the evictees while reporting that the police, the construction thugs and the redevelopment cooperative are not guilty.

click here for full article

The Weird Logic of the S. Korean Prosecution

no chr.! 10.Feb.2009 14:38

With regard to the article: "Police Were Just Doing There Job, says Korean Courts": The complete (worth reading!!) contribution you can read here:  http://indymedia.cast.or.kr/drupal/?q=ko/node/30

Related stuff in the S.K. press:
Protesters to blame for fatal Yongsan fire: prosecutors (JoongAng Ilbo)

Prosecution blames protesters for Yongsan tragedy, clears police (Hankyoreh)

Seoul: Streit um besetztes Haus endet tödlich

Micky the Maniac 11.Feb.2009 19:44


State Terror After the Yongsan Massacre

no chr.! 12.Feb.2009 15:01

Hankyoreh's latest article "Prosecution intensifies its investigation into demolition protest group" is drawing attention to the "slightly tense relationship" between the Lee Myung-bak administration (i.e. the prosecution/police) and the Federation Against House Demolition/Jeoncheolyeon (JCY), especially since the Yongsan Massacre and the following - and ongoing - protests. Well, you also might call it simply: The (increasing) State Terror against JCY!!

For more please check out:

The Fire on Dragon Hill

no chr.! 21.Feb.2009 14:22

A special feature by NewsCham (2.20):

In the early morning hours of January 20th, a shipping container carrying members of the police SWAT team was hoisted to the roof of the Namildang building in Yongsan, a central district in the heart of Seoul City. The SWAT team used water canons to forcibly end a 25-hour long protest that was staged by local residents and members of the National Alliance of Squatters and Evictees. A fire soon engulfed the building. When the fire was finally extinguished at around 8 am that morning, six bodies were among the ashes; five protesters and one police officer...

The complete feature you can read here:

Translations Housekeeping

Y6y 27.Feb.2009 02:41

Please delete this Ελληνικά (Greek) translation because it is a duplicate with some misspellings:  http://www.indymedia.org/el/2009/02/921049.shtml

Please only leave this translation which is the correct one:  http://www.indymedia.org/el/2009/02/921050.shtml

"Democracy", made in korea (^^)

JeonCheolYeon(JCY) 01.Mar.2009 15:53

While today (3.1) the people in S.K. remember the 90th anniversary of the establishment of its democracy movement, i.e. the "3.1 Movement for Independence (from the Japanese colonial rule) and Democracy", already yesterday - once again - the S.K. gov't demonstrated its understanding of "democracy"! (*)

* For more please check out:

zhangjiajie travel?go!

love zhangjiajie 10.Mar.2009 10:59