Sunday, June 8, 2008

Haka and axing in Gwanghwamun

45,000.
That's the number of policemen surrounding the neighborhood these days. Non stop.
The equivalent of a fully seated Parc des Princes stadium. Actually, most of the time they are seating on the very pavement, in perfect lines, waiting for the evening, when tens of thousands people rally to protest against LEE Myung-bak.
The President is not even half a mile away (in Cheong Wa Dae), the Government a few hundred yards and the police HQ just across the street.
Demonstrators pick new itinaries every night but the police, well informed, is there to block the passage. The other night people came chanting from Sajik Tunnel and were silenced by the impressive display of the riot squad : each time a new grape of uniforms joined their human wall, the mass would utter GI-style barks and bang its shields. The show is as impressive as a New Zealand haka before a rugby game and everybody has to listen in fear.
Hopefully, this is neither the 70s nor the 80s* and only a few dozen people got hurt in the last 72 hour stand. But if some people are now coming mostly to join the party, most are really angry and many are truly desperate. A man set himself in fire near City Hall.

If the Korean Government can't be blamed for the oil shock nor the dollar dive, the least one could say is that it is not delivering the reforms it announced, and it is not managing the situation in the best of ways.

Heads will necessarily fall. The President cannot afford losing more public support : his approval rates stand below 20. Even GW Bush is hovering far higher these days, and even Nicolas Sarkozy took more time to take such a dive.

A few scapegoats have already been spotted in Cheong Wa Dae. It won't solve anything in the short term but Korea needs everyone to feel concerned and focused. Together.

Let's face it, the near future looks grim, and it could even turn more catastrophic if the North decided to collapse in the months to come.

But unlike in 1998 this country is not in total denial.



* nor even the early 90s, when I caught a few tear gas fumes for being at the wrong place at the wrong moment.

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