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S Korea police set to storm temple for wanted activist

Seoul: Hundreds of South Korean police stood set to storm Seoul’s top Buddhist temple today, after a senior monk appealed for more time to resolve a standoff over a wanted labour activist holed up inside.

Han Sang-Gyun, the head of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, sought sanctuary in the Jogye Temple in downtown Seoul following a massive anti-government demonstration on November 14.

Police issued an arrest warrant for Han, accusing him of inciting violence during the protest, and had given him an ultimatum to surrender by 4:00 PM (0700 GMT) today.

If Han failed to comply, the country’s top police officer, Kang Sin-Myeong, had said his men would raid the temple and remove him by force.

At Han’s request, the Jogye Order – South Korea’s leading Buddhist organisation – has been mediating with the government ever since he took refuge.

One monk told AFP that the activist had been on hunger strike for the past 11 days, taking only a little water and some salt.

As today’s deadline passed and with monks and scores of young Buddhist followers forming a human barricade at the entrance to the temple, the head of the order, the Venerable Jaesung, appealed for calm and an extension to resolve the situation.

“The implementation of the arrest warrant on Han is creating another conflict instead of solving one,” he told reporters inside the temple.

“We will resolve the issue of Han’s fate by midday tomorrow. So I call on the police and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions to stop all actions and watch our efforts,” he said.

The hundreds of uniformed officers ringing the temple complex made no move to leave, but a spokesman for the national police agency said any action had “been postponed”.

He did not clarify the duration of the postponement.

The Jogye Order, which is the largest Buddhist sect in South Korea and has millions of followers, had earlier released a statement warning that any police action would be seen as an act of religious persecution.

“If the police raid the temple, it… Will be tantamount to a state clampdown on the Jogye Order and on the whole Buddhist movement in South Korea,” the statement said.

South Korean religious venues have a long history of providing refuge for political activists, most notably in the 1980s when many young pro-democracy activists who were on the run from police sought sanctuary in Catholic churches.