ILSAN, South Korea — Riot police broke up a sit-in by thousands of striking bank workers here Wednesday, but union leaders vowed to ignore government threats and push ahead with the work stoppage, which has shut down two major banks.
Columns of South Korean police armed with clubs and shields marched into a bank training center, where the workers had been holding their protest since Friday. Officers scuffled with a few protesters, but the raid was mostly peaceful.
"Don't go back to work! Continue the fight!" a strike leader shouted through a microphone as police herded the workers into groups, then pulled them out of the Ilsan facility northwest of Seoul, the capital.
The operation came amid government fears that other workers would stage sympathy strikes, expanding the protest that has already become a major irritant to President Kim Dae Jung's economic reform program.
Fearing massive layoffs, the unions launched the strikes to protest plans to merge South Korea's two major commercial banks, Kookmin and Housing & Commercial Bank. The walkout, launched by about 15,000 union workers, has virtually shut down the two banks.
After the workers' eviction Wednesday, the government ordered strikers to report to work by today or face suspension and fines. The government also said it would prosecute 10 union leaders.
But strike organizers said they would resume protests after the New Year's break.
Just before the police raid Wednesday, several hundred bank technicians slipped out of the Ilsan center and occupied a training center in Yoju, southeast of Seoul. Police surrounded the building.
Thousands of riot police deployed around schools and churches in Seoul to prevent workers from regrouping for more protests. Strike leaders said they planned to regroup at Korea University in the capital.