S Korean protester sets himself ablaze outside FTA talks

AFP

Sunday, April 01, 2007

S Korean protester sets himself ablaze outside FTA talks

SEOUL: A South Korean protester set himself on fire on Sunday outside a Seoul hotel where talks on a free trade pact with the United States are in their final hours, witnesses and hospital officials said.

"It was so quick. A man was suddenly in flames and a group of riot police sprayed fire extinguisher on his body," a photographer at the scene said.

"An ambulance took him immediately to a nearby hospital."

Another witness said - "He was shouting ’Stop FTA!’ while setting fire on himself. He was repeating the slogan even lying on the road."

Officials at Joongang University hospital, where he was in an emergency unit, identified him as Heo Se-Ok aged 56.

"He is not in a critical condition at the moment. He still has consciousness and is still able to talk. But we’ll have to see," Lee Bo-Kyung, a nurse at the emergency unit, said.

At the time of the incident, demonstrators were protesting in nearby streets against the free trade pact.

Hundreds of riot police with helmets and shields guarded the hilltop Grand Hyatt hotel, the venue of the talks.

Police were not immediately available for comment.

Farmers and other workers who fear for their jobs, along with activists, have staged numerous protests since the negotiations began 10 months ago.

Last November major demonstrations left 63 people injured across the country, including 35 police officers.

Police deployed some 10,000 officers over the weekend in the capital. But protests since the final round of negotiations began on March 26 been relatively small-scale and free of violence.