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Thousands of Civil Servants Strike in South Korea

South Korean authorities have arrested at least 144 civil servants who went on strike Monday to protest pending legislation that would restrict their union rights. Thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of government employees walked off the job, despite the government saying it is illegal for civil servants to strike.

Defying a government vow to crackdown harshly on the strikers, thousands of civil servants have walked off the job in South Korea.

Strike leaders say the workers want collective bargaining action and other full labor rights. Such union activities would be severely restricted for civil servants if parliament approves a draft law later this month.

Civil servants are also demanding the government kill legislation that would allow companies to hire more temporary workers.

At a rally on Sunday, the chairman of the Korean Government Employees' Union called the strike a legitimate action.

Kim Young-kil told fellow union members their labor action will strike a blow against corruption among officials and bring about reforms.

Government Administration and Home Affairs Minister Huh Sung-kwan went on television Monday to warn that all participants in the strike would be fired and never reinstated in their jobs.

The union says it has asked workers involved in health, water, sewage and garbage collection services to stay on the job so as not to cause too much trouble for the public.

The union, less than three years old, represents nearly half of the countries public servants, except for firefighters, police officers and teachers. The government says the union has never been authorized.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), considered the country's most militant labor group, says hundreds of thousands of its members would go on strike next week in solidarity with the public workers.

The International Labor Organization, in the past, has criticized South Korea for preventing civil servants from organizing.

President Roh Moo-hyun, currently on a visit to Argentina, is a former labor lawyer and has been criticized by employers and foreign investors for being too soft on the country's militant labor groups.