SEOUL, South Korea — The leaders of South Korea's ruling and opposition parties met Wednesday and agreed that the presidential election should be held by Dec. 20.
Roh Tae Woo, president of the ruling Democratic Justice Party, and Kim Young Sam, head of the Reunification Democratic Party, also discussed parliamentary elections and opposition demands for the release of political prisoners, but failed to reach agreement on those issues.
The two leaders, longtime adversaries who may face each other in the December election, shook hands, smiled and chatted in front of reporters and cameramen, then secluded themselves in a lounge of the National Assembly building for the first formal discussions they have ever had with each other.
Spokesmen for the two announced later that they have agreed that a constitutional amendment establishing the framework for the elections should be presented to the National Assembly on Sept. 10.
Under the agreement, the revised constitution, which calls for direct election of the president for a single term of five years, should be approved with bipartisan support in early October and submitted to a national referendum by the end of October.
Roh is already the ruling party's nominee for president. Either Kim Young Sam or Kim Dae Jung, the other top opposition leader, is expected to be nominated by the Reunification Democratic Party.
President Chun Doo Hwan has promised to step down in February after completing a seven-year term. At a meeting Wednesday with Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Cal.), Chun reaffirmed a pledge to keep the military out of the emerging democratic process, according to the senator.
Cranston, appearing at a press conference, praised the progress South Korea has made toward democracy in recent weeks but deplored arrests of the past few days that have increased the number of political prisoners, according to opposition estimates, to about 400.
Roh and Kim agreed in principle that the wave of labor disputes sweeping the country should be settled without government intervention.
Hundreds of labor disputes are still unsettled, and two key conflicts flared Wednesday with renewed intensity.
More than 20,000 workers at Ulsan, the industrial base for the Hyundai group of companies, resumed their protest against the largest shipyard in the country and against a precision tool works. The move came after wage negotiations collapsed.
Thousands of the Hyundai workers marched into downtown Ulsan, according to Korean newspaper reports. After rallying in the city's stadium, about 3,000 workers occupied the grounds of the City Hall for about four hours. A city official was quoted as saying that they set fire to seven cars.
The Hyundai workers are demanding an 18% increase in basic pay. Management has offered 11%.
Demonstrations last month by 70,000 striking Hyundai workers forced the government to step in as mediator for the first time in the wave of labor disputes, which began after the government promised at the end of June to achieve democratic reforms. Those protests cooled when the workers were allowed to organize and given a promise of negotiations aimed at reaching a wage settlement by Sept. 1. The deadline passed with no agreement in hand.
At Inchon, 1,500 striking workers at the Daewoo Motor Co. plant were reported to have clashed with riot police in the street outside.
There was violence too in Seoul, where a strike has idled a third of the city's 41,000 taxicabs. A police spokesman said that striking drivers threw stones at taxis still in service, destroying five of them and injuring a passenger who was dragged out and beaten.
According to the authorities, some of the workers' uprisings have been led by former campus radicals who concealed their backgrounds in order to get working-class jobs. On Wednesday the police announced that a former college activist, Chung Yoon Whan, 24, has been charged with inciting violent strikes in the Chongsak coal mine.
National police headquarters was reported to have issued orders for similar arrests in other key strike locations.
The wave of labor unrest has begun to take a toll on South Korea's export-oriented economy. The Trade Ministry reported Wednesday that the disputes were responsible for the country's worst trade performance in 16 months, with the trade surplus falling to $94 million in August from $700 million in July.