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Fire kills at least 5 as police raid squatters' protest in Seoul

SOUTH Korean police stormed a building occupied by squatters in central Seoul early today, sparking a clash and a blaze that killed at least five people and injured 17, authorities said.

Commandos raided the four-story building in the Yongsan neighborhood early this morning by landing on the roof in a container box to break up a strike waged by some 40 people protesting a redevelopment plan, a Yongsan fire official said.

The squatters fought back by hurling Molotov cocktails at police, the cable news network YTN reported. One of the burning bottles sparked a fire on the roof, the report said. Photos and footage showed flames engulfing the building and black smoke billowing into the sky.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze in about an hour, authorities said.

Five bodies were found on the rooftop, Yongsan Police Chief Baek Dong-san said at a briefing. None have been identified but one is believed be a police officer, he said. He provided no details about the four other dead.

Baek said six protesters were injured, with one in serious condition, while 17 commandos suffered injuries. He said one other police officer remained unaccounted for.

Police said the protesters were squatters who had been occupying the building not far from the US Army's Yongsan military base since yesterday.

YTN said they had been pressing for temporary housing.

Police said some 20 protesters were detained today but provided no further details about the suspected squatters.

Molotov cocktails were a common feature of the pro-democracy protests in South Korea in the 1980s but rarely are used against police today. Paint thinner used in the makeshift explosives may have helped fuel the fire, Baek said.

President Lee Myung-bak, who replaced the country's top police chief two days earlier, has ordered an investigation into the incident, the Yonhap news agency reported.


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