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Senior Citizens Fight High-Voltage Tower Construction in South Korean Town

In the small South Korean rural town Miryang, senior residents are doing all they can to stop the construction of extra-high voltage transmission towers across their land. 

The state-owned power provider, Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) plans to build dozens of 765-kilovolt transmission towers [ko] across Miryang that would affect 30 villages and 1,800 households. Opposition is fierce. Most of the town's population, elderly farmers in their 60s and 70s, have resisted for over eight years now, citing health risks and expressing their strong attachment to their lands where they have lived for decades.

The fight made national headlines around January 2012 when a 74-year-old man set himself on fire in protest. A series of dramatic demonstrations have flipped public opinion toward the residents, and KEPCO temporarily halted the project on March 2013. 

After 126 days of hiatus, the construction resumed [ko] on October 2, 2013 and protests have erupted, both at the construction site and in front of the KEPCO building in Seoul. Five people were detained after having minor physical clashes [ko] with police. 

miryangphoto_compilation

People show their support for the Miryang protest. Image by ‘Stand with Miryang, Stop the 765kv Towers'. Used with permission.

KEPCO seemed to back off a little. However, they sued or applied injunctions against 15 residents, who are either farmers or unemployed, for hindering their construction. And despite KEPCO's claim that they had reached an agreement with 15 villages, the opposition issued a statement denying anything of the sort, stressing that residents aren't interested in monetary compensation. One local media outlet even reported that KEPCO had an internal research document [ko] admitting the high voltage transmission tower can be a serious health hazard to the residents in the affected area.

Environmental and civic groups have joined the senior citizen's uphill battle. Facebook page Stand with Miryang, Stop the 765kv Towers shared photos of recent protests (below) and citizens holding signs in support of Miryang's struggle. (above).

Image of people protesting in front of the KEPCO building. Image by ‘Stand with Miryang, Stop the 765kv Towers'. Used with permission.

People protest in front of the KEPCO building. Image by ‘Stand with Miryang, Stop the 765kv Towers'. Used with permission.

Net users expressed shock at the government's decision to use police force against the elderly farmers. About 2,000 riot police agents were deployed [ko] to the site (initially, 3,000 were expected [ko] to be dispatched):

Worries of the worst case scenario looms over the Miryang tower construction (site). Residents are mostly old, helpless elderly people. They want to forge ahead with the construction by kicking away these people with several thousand police agents! Such action is something unimaginable even in a war-time situation.

@MyoungrrangAndy: [...]밀양에 경찰병력이 계속 늘어가고 있답니다. 주민의사 무시하는 공사 강행은 명백한 폭력입니다.

@MyoungrrangAndy[...] I've heard the number of police forces in Miryang keeps increasing. Pushing ahead with the construction against the resident's wishes is clearly an act of violence.

As violent clashes seem inevitable, many recalled the Yongsan disaster four years ago, in which six people were killed in an accidental fire started while police attempted to break-up a sit-in of evicted residents in a building in Seoul:

As day of resumed construction on the Miryang transmission tower draws near, they have decided to deploy 3,000 riot police agents (34 squads) to the site on October 2… 3,000 police against a few elderly citizens? Have they already forgotten about the Yongsan disaster?

The Miryang Transmission Tower crisis shows that the government has no right to ruin individual lives for the sake of the public interest. If it is something really necessary for the public interest, they need to persuade the [affected] residents and must provide them with alternative options. This moronic idea of forging ahead claiming it benefits the greater public good without making any preparations is what led to the Yongsan disaster.

I really hope for a peaceful resolution to the Miryang transmission tower crisis.

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