SEOUL, South Korea — Anti-government students hurled bricks, rocks and sticks and charged with flagpoles at riot police Sunday in a battle that began in front of Seoul's Roman Catholic cathedral when students were blocked from marching into the streets.
About 500 students, waving flags and banners and shouting "Down with the military dictatorship!" tried to march out of Myongdong Cathedral in downtown Seoul after a memorial service Sunday evening.
Students earlier paraded at the service with coffins, symbolizing the nearly 200 people killed in the Kwangju uprising of May, 1980.
South Korea has been hit by a weeklong wave of protests as opposition groups mark the Kwangju uprising and demand the removal of President Chun Doo Hwan's government.
Hundreds of helmeted riot police in green combat uniforms and carrying shields and batons poured out of back streets Sunday and sealed off all roads leading away from the cathedral, Catholic church headquarters in South Korea.
Students Charge Police
Students charged the lines of police at the cathedral gate, hitting out with flagpoles, kicking and punching, as police were forced back. Onlookers cheered and clapped as police gave way.
Police regrouped, and police commanders warned the students over loudspeakers to disperse as they tried once more to march. Some students began hurling rocks at the police.
Catholic priests rushed in between the two sides, yelling at the students to stop the rock-throwing. They persuaded most of the protesters to go back into the cathedral grounds, where the students began an all-night protest vigil.
Frightened pedestrians caught in the middle ran for safety, weeping and gagging as tear gas wafted across streets. Hundreds of people watched from behind police lines.
Violence in Kwangju
In Kwangju, about 170 miles south of Seoul, students Sunday twice attacked police stations, throwing rocks and firebombs and injuring three officers, the Korean news agency Yonhap reported.
About 100 students were in the second attack but were quickly dispersed by police firing tear gas, it said.
Last week, students battled police on campuses across the country, and more protests are expected.
Police are on maximum alert, and reinforcements have arrived. The Korea Times said Sunday that police were mounting special guard details on police stations and arsenals lest dissidents try to seize weapons and explosives.
Opposition groups insist that Chun must withdraw his April 13 decision to suspend debate on political reforms, including the opposition's demands for a direct popular vote in presidential elections at the end of the year instead of the present electoral college system. Chun says suspending debate on constitutional change is necessary to preserve national stability and protect the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Chun, whose seven-year term ends next February, says he will not run again for president, but the opposition says the present electoral system will work to keep Chun's party and his choice for president in power.