SEOUL, South Korea — Police supported by helicopters firing tear gas broke up a four-day student occupation of Konkuk University here early today, and local news reports said that officers seized almost 1,200 of the students.
Initial reports said 50 students and police were injured in the two-hour sweep that saw police take control of five university buildings the students had occupied in a protest against the government and the United States.
There was no official word on the number of arrests or casualties, but the Yonhap News Agency and the state-run Korean Broadcasting System both reported that 1,447 students were taken into custody.
They said this included 1,185 seized today and 262 who had surrendered or were apprehended earlier.
Many Suffer Burns
Yonhap also reported the initial casualty count of 50, adding that many of them had suffered burns.
Witnesses said earlier they saw at least four students being carried from the scene.
An estimated 8,000 police were reported to have been mobilized for the assault on the demonstrators.
Foreign reporters were barred from the school grounds earlier this morning as the police operation began, but a live telecast by the Korean Broadcasting System showed scenes of the action, and smoke from several fires could be seen rising from the campus in the southeastern part of the South Korean capital.
Two police helicopters were seen swooping low over the roofs of the buildings held by the demonstrators, dropping tear gas canisters and leaflets. Firefighting crews raised ladders alongside the four- and five-story buildings, spraying students with high pressure hoses.
Earlier, police helicopters dropped 5,000 leaflets over the campus, urging the students to give up and promising lenient treatment. Police said that only 12 students heeded the appeal.
It was first reported that about 3,000 police had been called to deal with the demonstrators. The Yonhap News Agency said that by the time the assault was ordered, however, 53 companies of police totaling about 8,000 men had been mobilized. The agency said 28 fire engines and 10 ambulances also were moved to the scene.
Throughout the prolonged siege, the demonstrators warned that they would set fire to the school buildings and destroy the university computer center and library if the police moved with force. They also threatened to leap from buildings or set fire to themselves.
The students, said to initially have represented 26 schools in Seoul and some provincial areas, first gathered at Konkuk on Tuesday for a rally that turned into a violent demonstration and brought clashes with riot police when the students sought to move into the streets.
After the demonstrators were driven back onto the campus, they seized the five buildings and began a sit-in that included rooftop demonstrations with leaflets, placards and signs of defiance.
Focused on Chun
The protests centered on the government of President Chun Doo Hwan. Student activists and other dissidents have long charged that the government is an illegitimate, repressive regime. The students also protested strongly against U.S. support for Chun's government.
The New Korea Democratic Party, the major political opposition against the Chun government, had urged authorities not to use violence in dealing with the Konkuk protest, and the action today was seen as certain to bring new tension to the already stormy political scene.