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Videos Show Police in South Korea Dousing Sewol Protesters With Water Cannons

Massive rallies were held in Seoul in support of labor rights, and against government corruption and inaction after the Sewol ferry disaster last year.
Photo by Lee Jin-man/AP

Police in South Korea doused protestors with water cannons during massive rallies in Seoul in support of labor rights, and against government corruption and inaction after the Sewol ferry disaster last year.

Thousands of protestors clashed with police Friday night and early Saturday after they attempted to break through barricades and march toward the president's office in Seoul.

The rallies were led by the families of the victims of last April's ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people when the MV Sewol sank off the coast of South Korea.


Demonstrators, carrying flags and wearing yellow to commemorate the victims, were met by police in riot gear after they attempted to go around the restricted area blocked off for the rally.

Forty people were arrested and several police and demonstrators were injured in the ensuing clashes, the New York Times reported.

#MayDay Seoul #Sewol : A massive police operation to clear protesters begin at 03:00 kst @facttvdesk cc @NewsRevo

— Byung Taek Jeon?…????"?? (@metempirics) May 1, 2015

Video from the protests shows crowds confronting police while being sprayed with water cannons. People also attacked and defaced police vehicles and buses with wooden sticks and spray paint.

Related: In Photos: On Anniversary of South Korea Ferry Disaster, President Promises to Raise Sewol

The sinking of the Sewol sparked widespread anger throughout the country over the past year, targeted especially at the South Korean government and media, who many accuse of downplaying the government's responsibility in the crisis. Many also expressed anger about the lax safety regulations that contributed to the sinking of the ferry and the slow rescue response.

Protests demanding further investigation into the disaster have occurred regularly since last year.

Related: Sewol Ferry Captain Escapes Death Penalty in South Korea — Again

The captain of the ship, Lee Joon-seok, was found guilty of murder and sentenced Tuesday to life in prison. Fourteen other Sewol crew members were sentenced to 12 years.

May Day yesterday in #SouthKorea!! Wow 60,000 gathered for workers rights!

— #KaliAllMen (@Feministfists) May 2, 2015

Friday's demonstrations also called for greater labor rights for South Korean workers as part of the annual May Day protests organized by labor movements worldwide. South Koreans are facing wage cuts and a reduction in worker benefits as a result of new labor legislation in the country.

Most of the demonstrators were dispersed by late Friday night, although some people continued to occupy streets of the capital until Saturday morning.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928