July 24, 2008

Korea vs. Lee Myung Bak

-When we would walk through the protests late at night we would see riot police lining the streets. Water cannons ready, shields up. They were ready for anything...staring into the very face of danger, staring into the very face of this sweet high school girl and all 6 of her friends.-

In the early stages of the protests people came out of every nook and cranny to wave candles, chant catchy tunes such as, "I don't need it, you don't need it. I don't eat it, you don't eat it", boast signs and wear flags. The majority of the population was out in support of banning the importation of American beef. A few were out for Lee Myung Bak's head and fewer still were there to be where the action was.

-Jen and I posing with our new friends... don't they look dangerous?-

Lee Myung Bak, despite an on going criminal investigation, is their newly elected president. Not more than 6 months prior to these record breaking demonstrations the populace voted in favor of Mr. Lee. It was a landslide victory. We were told that many people didn't even leave their homes to vote because everyone knew the outcome of the election before the poles had even opened in the mornings. I remember going to school the next day and chatting with one of my students about the results of the previous day's elections. She was furious. She didn't like what he stood for. She didn't like his past dealings in business. She didn't like anything about him. I left school that day with the realization that even in middle school in Korea they seem to understand the importance of voting. The importance of doing their duty for their country and the importance of understanding what it is that a government stands for. The next few months confirmed my students feelings as the general populous seemed to turn on 'poor' Mr. Lee.

-Take a look at the advertisement on the bottom of the riot bus...-

Now he finds himself in a bind. The people have been out protesting through extreme heat and monsoon rains. At first they were peaceful. Millions would gather on the lawn of City Hall and show their disregard for the countries new found leadership. To put this into perspective, the last time they had protests of this size it brought down the ruling government and Korea changed forever from a military dictatorship into a democracy. Yet, at this point it was a family event. It was a sort of twisted way to claim family time. Middle school students ran through the crowded streets with signs that stated, "OUT LEE MYUNG BAK" and "RENEGOTIATE WITH THE STATES OR GET OUT OF OFFICE". Some carried large stop signs with Mr. Lee's name written on them and many had personalized t-shirts stating their opinions of disgust.

-The Korean police force...could you take these guys seriously?
That's what I thought. Neither do we!-

Now, over three months later, the protests still continue. But they are no longer family affairs. There is a hint of violence in the air. In one weekend I heard that hundreds of citizens as well as riot police were sent to the hospital with injuries. The catholic priests have moved onto the City Hall lawn to hold prayer vigils which encourage Lee Myung Bak to heed the people and for the people to seek resolution through peaceful terms. Trev and I tend to stay clear of the downtown area.

-A smaller group of protesters sitting in the streets.-

Mr. Lee is still in office and still digging his proverbial grave a little deeper with every foreign relation that he botches up. The Koreans are now angry with him for his dealing with the North about the shooting of the South Korean tourist and about his dealing with Japan over the island of Dokdo, which both countries claim is their land.

Poor Mr. Lee, can't seem to do anything right these days.

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