South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun apologized yesterday for the deaths of two farmers after a violent protest last month in Seoul against the World Trade Organization and vowed to hold accountable those responsible.
"I apologize to people with my head deep down and I pray for the souls of the dead," Roh said during a nationally televised news conference. Roh also said he would seek compensation for the victims' families.
"We should all reflect on this kind of situation and prepare countermeasures," he said, adding that he would ensure that a similar incident never occurs.
But he also blamed the deaths on the nation's culture of violent rallies, saying that the two farmers would not have died if protesters hadn't wielded steel bars against the riot police.
The deaths particularly outraged farmers' groups, who called for the dismissal of Commissioner General of the Korean National Police Agency Huh Joon-young.
Roh said he has no authorization to punish Huh, who was appointed in January and whose two-year term is set by law.
Earlier in the day, Huh also apologized but indicated he wouldn't step down. His deputy, Lee Kee-mook, offered to resign.
The apologies by Roh and Huh came a day after South Korea's human rights panel said the deaths of the two farmers, Hong Deok-pyo and Jeon Yong-cheol, probably came as a result of police violence during the rally near the National Assembly on November 15.
Jeon's death on November 24 likely resulted from brain injuries caused by a concussion after being knocked over by riot police, the National Human Rights Commission said.
Hong died on December 18 of complications arising from damage to his cervical vertebrae by an outside force, the commission said, suggesting police violence may have been the cause.
It's likely Roh felt compelled to apologize after the commission's findings were announced since the police force is a national organization.
Among those apologies, he said sorry after an aide's allegedly accepted money from a corporate slush fund and apologized for the government's suppression of an uprising on the southern island of Jeju in 1948.
South Korea's national assembly ratified a World Trade Organization-sponsored deal last month to raise its rice import quota to 7.96 percent of total domestic consumption from the current four percent.
In return it won a 10-year grace period before it must open up fully to rice imports.