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Six die after police storm building

SIX people died and 23 were injured after police commandos stormed a vacant office building occupied by displaced tenants in central Seoul yesterday, sparking a clash and a blaze that killed six people and injured 23, authorities said.

A team of 100 commandos landed on the roof of the five-story building in Seoul's Yongsan neighborhood in the early morning to break up the protest against the building's redevelopment, Seoul police said. They were joined by about 1,400 riot police.

The protesters, 40 tenants and small business owners wanting better compensation from the companies redeveloping the building, had been camped inside for a day.

Police said they hurledMolotov cocktails at them and out the building's windows. One of the burning bottles sparked a fire on the roof that engulfed the building within minutes, sending flames and black smoke into the sky. Firefighters took an hour to extinguish the blaze.

Yongsan Police Chief Baek Dong-san earlier said five people had been found dead, including one police officer. Police later said the death toll stood at six dead while 28 people were arrested.

The dead included a former watch-shop owner who had been forced to vacate the building and the manager of a now-defunct restaurant, said Kim Jang-ki, a member of the Tenants Association who said he knew both of men.

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

President Lee Myung-bak ordered an investigation into the incident, which comes just two days after he had replaced the police chief, who had been heavily criticized for his handling of protests during the conservative leader's almost one year in office.

Hundreds of riot police blocked the entrance while investigators looked at the building and residents left white flowers outside.

Prime Minister Han Seung-soo called the incident "extremely unfortunate" and expressed "deep regret" over the deaths.

"The government will thoroughly investigate why and how this has happened," he said in a nationally televised address hours after the bodies were pulled from the charred building. "We will uncover the truth, leaving not a single dot of suspicion."

Molotov cocktails were a common feature of the pro-democracy protests in South Korea in the 1980s but are rarely used against police today. Yesterday's clash was one of the most violent in recent years. South Koreans took to the streets last year over the government's decision to reopen the market to US beef but no one was killed in the near-daily protests.


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