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Page last updated at 10:29 GMT, Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Deadly Seoul clash sparks inquiry

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Protesters were seen throwing Molotov cocktails from a container warehouse

Five protesters and a police officer have been killed in a blaze that broke out amid clashes in the South Korean capital, Seoul.

President Lee Myung-bak has ordered an inquiry into the incident, in which 23 people were also injured.

The blaze broke out as police stormed a building occupied by some 40 people, who resisted, using firebombs and acid.

The protesters were demanding better compensation to leave the property, which is scheduled for redevelopment.

The incident threatens to spark a political controversy.

It comes just two days after President Lee replaced the country's police chief, who had been widely criticised for being too hard on anti-government protesters.

Commando raid

In a dramatic commando raid in the Yongsan district of the capital, the South Korean police were attempting to reach the roof of the occupied building when the fire broke out, according to the BBC's John Sudworth.

A protester at the Seoul building is hauled away by police on Tuesday
Police have been criticised for heavy-handed tactics in the past
Officers in riot gear were packed inside a shipping container that was being lowered into place by a giant crane, and used water cannon against the protesters, witnesses said.

The protesters fought back by hurling Molotov cocktails, paint thinner, acid, bricks and golf balls, reports said. The chemicals used may have fed the fire which broke out, and which took firefighters an hour to bring under control.

As well as the loss of life, the incident has left 23 police and protesters injured, with one protester said to be in a coma.

In a televised address, Prime Minister Han Seung-soo expressed "deep regret" but warned that lawbreakers would face "stern measures".

The incident comes just two days after President Lee replaced his police chief - who had been heavily criticised for his handling of a barrage of protests against US beef imports earlier in the year - with a new chief, Kim Seok-ki.

"[Kim's] first performance after being appointed as the head of police was a bloody crackdown on ordinary citizens," a spokeswoman for the opposition Democratic Party said according to AFP news agency.



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