SEOUL, South Korea — Students holding out on the grounds of South Korea's main Roman Catholic cathedral began a fourth day of protest today as policemen fired tear gas to drive back a crowd of several thousand people trying to march on the cathedral in support of the students.
At mid-morning, the riot police had drawn their cordon around the cathedral even tighter. On the grounds of the church, beyond police lines, about 80 students and a Buddhist monk sat in a circle on the courtyard pavement, chanting responses to a rally leader. They wore white headbands and looked relaxed.
A light breeze had cleared the heavy smell of tear gas from the elevated compound, and another 100 or more students slept in long, makeshift tents. The compound contains six or seven auxiliary buildings and the cathedral itself. Nuns and priests moved about, but were not taking part in the student protest.
Rocks Behind Barricade
At the foot of the driveway was a barricade, a pile of rocks neatly stacked behind it. And there was an information booth, identified in Korean and English, but no English-speakers within. A priest said it appeared that the students intended to continue their occupation.
Lee Woong Hee, South Korea's minister of culture and information, issued a statement bristling with threats, both against the students and against a new opposition coalition.
The protests are the most sustained anti-government action mounted in downtown Seoul in seven years. The 40,000 U.S. servicemen stationed here are being warned to stay out of the affected areas.
The demonstrations erupted Wednesday when the ruling Democratic Justice Party nominated Roh Tae Woo, its chairman and a longtime friend and military associate of President Chun Doo Hwan, to succeed Chun next February.
Friday, after a day of calm elsewhere in the capital, scattered demonstrations broke out again in the downtown area. During the lunch period, several thousand workers from downtown shops and offices gathered and taunted the police. When the workers tried to march on the cathedral in support of the students, the police fired volley after volley of pepper gas, a virulent form of tear gas, into their ranks.
The marchers, dressed mostly in business suits and dresses, attempted to regroup and sang "We Shall Overcome" in Korean.
The street disorder continued long after nightfall, with students hurling rocks and firebombs at the police circling the Myongdong Cathedral. Protesters shouted "Destroy the dictator!" and "People power!" as they battled police hand-to-hand and broke up sidewalks for something to throw. Many bystanders applauded the attackers and booed the police.
Most Violence in Seoul
Most of the violence has taken place in Seoul, but officials said that more than 20,000 students have been involved in demonstrations at 37 universities around the country.
At Seoul's Yonsei University, about 4,000 students fought with police Friday as the result of a Tuesday incident. A student there has been in a coma since being hit in the head with a tear-gas canister fired by the police.
Priests at the Myongdong Cathedral, in the heart of downtown Seoul, informed the 500 or so students there that the priests and nuns would support the students if they agreed to forgo violence.
Three National Assembly members from the opposition Reunification Democratic Party visited the cathedral and were told by priests that they had urged the police to let the students go free. But the priests said they had received no response.
At the priests' urging, the students removed barricades of desks, chairs and street signs that they had thrown up at the entrance to the cathedral grounds. They swept the streets of rubble and washed away the powdered residue left by the tear gas.
The students spent most of Friday in discussions in the plaza at the entrance to the turn-of-the-century Gothic church. Food was brought to them by nuns and shopkeepers in the neighborhood.
A spokesman for the students told reporters that 70 of them had been injured, 16 seriously. Nine were sent to hospitals, he said.
Assails 'Radical Extremists'
Lee, the minister of culture and information, condemned the students holding out at the cathedral as "radical extremists." He said they were "flouting peace and order," and added, "If left unchecked, the disorderly mass sit-in . . . is almost certain to lead to . . . confusion in the basic national order."
Lee lashed out at the National Coalition for a Democratic Constitution, a newly formed group that includes clergymen and opposition members in the National Assembly. He said the group had led the demonstrations Wednesday with "a subversive intent to induce a violent revolution."