South Korean police storm sit-in factory

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Helicopter-borne police commandos fought a pitched battle with militant strikers at an ailing South Korean automaker today, seizing all but one key building at its chaotic factory and increasing pressure on hundreds of protesters to give up.

The dramatic raid at Ssangyong Motor Co.'s Pyeongtaek factory came after commandos overran other buildings the day before in an effort to end a standoff that has threatened South Korea's fifth-largest automaker with insolvency.

Ssangyong has been in court-approved bankruptcy protection since February amid falling sales and mounting red ink. Troubles have deepened in the past two months with hundreds of dismissed workers occupying the factory's paint shop — said to be packed with flammable materials such as thinner— to protest massive layoffs.

Commandos stormed the roof of one of the factory's two paint shops by descending from a black shipping container carried by a helicopter. Some others rappelled down a rope from another helicopter.

Helmet-wearing workers fought back with sticks and threw objects at the shield-wielding police. Commandos also fired water cannon from the container as it was suspended above the roof.

A Gyeonggi provincial police officer said about 100 commandos stormed the roof while another 300 riot police launched an assault on the paint shop with ladders.

The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with office policy, said police had secured one of the buildings. He said protesters fled and two were injured as they tried to escape down ladders. YTN television reported that about 30 people on both sides suffered injuries.

Meanwhile, an association of auto parts suppliers comprising 600 companies to which Ssangyong owes about 300 billion won ($245 million), filed a court petition Wednesday to call for the carmaker's liquidation.

Wednesday's raid still left hundreds of protesters in one of the paint shop buildings, with police taking control of the rest of the compound in the city of Pyeongtaek, some 45 miles (70 kilometers) south of Seoul. Up to 500 people were still inside the facility, said Lee Won-muk, a Ssangyong spokesman.

National Police Agency chief Kang Hee-rak said police will "take some time to think about going in there" in hopes that the company's union and management will reach a compromise on the dispute.

But Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency chief Cho Hyun-oh later warned "there appears to be not much time left" and urged remaining strikers to give up by Thursday, suggesting that a raid on the last-remaining facility could come earlier than expected.

The flammable materials inside the paint shop have raised fears of an inferno if there is a full-blown police assault — which seems to have weighed heavily on police willingness to move in.

Union spokesman Lee Chang-kun said Tuesday that a police assault on the paint shop would be deadly.

"We will respond to it, bracing ourselves for death," he said.

Ssangyong's restructuring plan calls for the shedding of 2,646 workers, or 36 percent of the work force. Some 1,670 have left the company voluntarily but nearly 1,000 opposed the move.

Talks last week to end the occupation broke off Sunday, with management threatening to take steps toward liquidation unless the union accepted a compromise offer on layoffs.

The company offered to keep more workers than before in a compromise proposal, but the union insisted on no layoffs.

The unrest has cost Ssangyong over 300 billion won ($246 million) in lost production since it began, according to the company.

The court overseeing Ssangyong's bankruptcy is unlikely to accept the liquidation petition from parts suppliers but the move could affect its decision on whether to approve a corporate survival plan that Ssangyong is required to submit by Sept. 15, Yonhap news agency said.

Ssangyong, which mostly manufactures light SUVs and a luxury sedan, is majority-owned by Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., one of China's largest vehicle manufacturers, though it lost management control amid the bankruptcy protection process.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific