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South Korean Lawmakers Blockade, Brawl Over US Trade Deal

A move by South Korean lawmakers to advance a controversial free-trade agreement with the United States has sparked physical clashes between opposing parties -- with one side physically barricading itself from the other. The scuffles underline an intense dispute among Koreans about the deal.

Hammers were swung, doors were split open and fire hoses were deployed, Thursday, as part of South Korea's legislature came under siege in a dispute on a major free-trade deal with the United States.

Minority party politicians, opposing ratification of the deal, tried to force their way into to a legislative committee room where members of President Lee Myung-bak's ruling Conservative Party barricaded themselves.

The conservatives successfully initiated the process of ratifying the deal, as security guards scuffled with dozens of political opponents nearby.

Supporters say deal is needed

The American-South Korean free-trade pact would open up large sectors of the U.S. and South Korean economies for easier bilateral trade. It was signed last year, but has languished behind other priorities, in both nations.

Supporters of the deal say it is needed -- now more than ever -- to stimulate the slowing South Korean economy. South Korean farmers and left-leaning politicians fiercely oppose the deal, saying the far larger U.S. economy is likely to swallow entire South Korean industries, especially in agriculture.

Won Hae-young, floor leader for South Korea's minority Democratic Party, accuses President Lee's party of ignoring civilized principles.

Won tells a television interviewer with South Korea's YTN cable network Mr. Lee has turned the legislature into a battleground.

South Korean conservatives have a big enough majority to ratify the free-trade deal by themselves. However, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama and new members of the Democrat-majority U.S. Congress are critical of the free-trade deal and questions remain about the likelihood of ratification in Washington.