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SKorea's opposition ends parliamentary occupation

Opposition lawmakers pulled out of the SKorean parliament's main hall, ending a 12 day occupation aimed at blocking the ruling party from ramming through contentious bills, including a free trade pact with the US.

world Updated: Jan 06, 2009 11:33 IST

Opposition lawmakers pulled out of the South Korean parliament's main hall on Tuesday, ending a 12 day occupation aimed at blocking the ruling party from ramming through contentious bills, including a free trade pact with the US Legislators from the main opposition Democratic Party took control of the hall on Dec 26 and camped out there, fending off attempts by parliamentary security guards to clear them away during violent scuffles.

On Tuesday, Rep Chung Se kyun, head of the Democratic Party, told a news conference the siege was ended because there was no longer concern that the ruling party would ram through bills. Chung said the parliamentary speaker promised not to do so. The ruling Grand National Party, which controls parliament with 172 seats in the 299 seat assembly, had planned to pass some 80 bills before the end of the parliamentary session on Thursday. But the plan fell through in the face of the opposition siege. "We have safeguarded parliamentary democracy," Chung said, flanked by other lawmakers in front of the hall.

Chung also apologized to the nation "for what happened because of the sit in," referring to the violence that erupted. "The Democratic Party hopes there won't be a situation where we cannot help but make this choice again," he said.

Last month, opposition lawmakers used sledgehammers to pound their way into a committee room where ruling party lawmakers were meeting to introduce the bill to ratify the U.S. free trade pact. The opposition says the deal should not be approved until President Lee Myung bak's government works out measures to protect farmers, laborers and others who are expected to suffer from a surge in imports from the US.

Another point of dispute is a GNP sponsored bill aimed at easing restrictions on businesses and newspapers owning broadcast stations. Critics say the bill would help large pro government newspapers and companies establish television stations, and give the Lee government too much leverage with broadcasters.

The move on Tuesday came amid reports that the rival parties were making progress in negotiations over how to deal with contentious bills, including the accord with the US Details of discussions were not known.