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S. Korean Minority Faction Ends Parliament-Paralyzing Sit-in


Members of a South Korean minority party have ended their weeks-long sit-in at the country's parliament. The Seoul legislature had become a "battleground" - figuratively, and literally - in a dispute over several controversial measures.

South Korea's parliament stopped resembling a siege bunker Tuesday - at least for the time being. Chung Sye-kyun, chairman of the minority Democratic Party, announced its members and allies would end their sit-in of the main assembly hall and make plans to get back to work.

Chung says he and his Democratic party lawmakers will "normalize" the National Assembly, in order to process about 95 bills aimed at improving public welfare.

The announcement ends weeks of brawling, barraging, and barricading that ground South Korea's legislative branch to a halt.

South Korea's majority Grand National Party outnumbers the DP by more than two to one, and easily possesses the votes to pass what it wants. However, Democratic Party members have followed through on warnings to physically prevent passage of what they call several "evil" bills. The measures include ratification of a free trade agreement with the United States, and a media reform plan that would allow South Korea's biggest, mainly conservative newspapers to expand into broadcasting.

Last month DP members hacked away with sledgehammers at locked and barricaded doors where majority lawmakers were meeting to initiate the free trade deal ratification. A week later, they stormed the parliament's main assembly hall and locked themselves in for a sit-in to block voting.

Clashes erupted Sunday when guards tried unsuccessfully to evict the minority politicians. More than a dozen people were injured.

Chung, the DP chairman, says he regrets the events of the past few weeks.

He apologizes on behalf of the Democratic Party, and says he hopes this kind of situation does not arise again.

The GNP says it will delay the most bitterly disputed measures for now. In a statement Tuesday, it called on the DP to promise it will not resort to such action again.

Michael Breen, a political and business consultant who has resided in South Korea for three decades, says the episode may have dented the country's international image.

"The world is in a very serious situation here, and Korea is one of the big boys now," he said. "And this sort of tomfoolery, you know, fiddling while the country burns. I think it's going to do Korea some damage, frankly."

South Korean lawmakers hope to pass short-term economic measures aimed at stemming the effects of the global recession by Thursday.

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