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?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor