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S.Korean railway strike intensifies after gov't issues license for new subsidiary

SEOUL, Dec. 28 (Xinhua) -- Thousands of rail workers and supporters rallied in downtown Seoul and marched into streets on Saturday to protest the government's move to open a new subsidiary for the state-run rail operator, which unionists fear will result in privatization and layoffs.

The labor union led the walkout till Saturday night after the government on late Friday issued a formal license for a new affiliate of South Korea's state-run Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL) that operates the new high-speed line from Suseo-dong in Seoul to the port city of Busan.

The union said that up to 100,000 people joined the strike on the 20th day of this largest scale protest, but local police put the number at 20,000,according to the Yonhap news agency.

Shouting "no privatization," protesters occasionally clashed with riot police, whose number is estimated to be 13,000. There have been no reports of injuries or arrests so far.

The labor union denounced the transportation ministry for " abruptly" issuing the license regardless of workers' strong protests, saying it is "a declaration of war" against the people.

KORAIL union chief Kim Myung-hwan said at a press briefing that the union will submit a lawsuit attempting to nullify the government decision.

The workers declared that protests will go on until Feb. 25, the first anniversary of the inauguration of President Park Geun- hye.

The rail operator vowed to give heavy punishment for 490 union leaders according to their involvement in the strike and downtime, according to the KORAIL's spokesman Jang Jin-bok, who added that the company will also take legal actions to seek compensation for financial damages.

Local police have court-issued arrest warrants for 25 union leaders involved in the strike.

To find ways out to control the intensified conflict, South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won held a meeting of related cabinet members, maintained that the goal of opening the new KORAIL affiliate is to benefit people by introducing competition mechanism to its rail industry.

Chung urged people to support the government's decision and hoped citizens could "endure the inconveniences for a little longer."

More than 50,000 workers of the state-run Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL) have walked off the job since Dec. 9, affecting high- speed KTX, ITX, subway and cargo train operations. KORAIL was forced to cut passenger train services by around 24 percent for the fifth day in a row on Friday. The daily amount of cargo shipments has also dropped to an average of 30 percent of the normal volume.

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