The issue of free trade is a contentious one in Korea. The passage this past week of the US-Korean Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was a win for the sitting presidential administration and the conservative Grand National Party, but led to much anger on the left. That anger became quite palpable in the final moments of the vote in the National Assembly when an opposition lawmaker threw a tear gas canister in the chamber, forcing lawmakers to flee.
Protests in Korea are a relatively common occurrence, and have been known to become quite unruly. Partly for this reason as well as other historical reasons, they are required to be registered with the government ahead of time. Protests related to imports of beef from the United States drew hundreds of thousands if not millions of protesters in Korea, and the verve of the organizing groups has not slowed down. The protest I observed in Kwanghuamun this past week were relatively peaceful when I was there, although later that night almost 50 police officers were in the hospital, having suffered injuries while trying to disperse the protesters. An unknown number of protesters were injured as well.