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Tuesday, 12 June, 2001, 05:56 GMT 06:56 UK
Mass strike threatens South Korea
Protests in Korea
South Korea is facing demonstrations from workers
By BBC News' Caroline Gluck in Seoul

South Korean economic ministers have made an appeal to trade unions to call off plans for a mass general strike.

The government said the strike should be avoided at a time when national efforts were needed to overcome a serious drought and recharge the economy.

The planned strike has been branded illegal, with the government threatening stern action if necessary.

Labour protests have become increasingly violent this year, reflecting growing anger at large-scale layoffs resulting from the government's economic reforms.

Union determination

The appeal came as the country's two national airline carriers began fresh negotiations with unions to try to avert a joint strike by pilots and ground staff.

Management at two airlines - Korean Air and Asiana - are holding fresh talks with the unions in an effort to avoid a walk-out and airport chaos.

But the umbrella trade union group, the Korean confederation of trade unions, has rejected the appeal, saying tens of thousands of their members will go ahead with the strike on Tuesday.

But the militant trade union group, the KCTU, with about half a million members, said it had no plans to call off a nationwide walk-out.

The union said more than 55,000 of its members would heed a strike call on Tuesday to support calls for wage increases and for the government to abandon its restructuring programme, which has led to mass lay-offs.

Another eleven thousand members, at twelve hospitals, are expected to follow suit on Wednesday.

Severe drought

At a nationally televised press conference, South Korean finance minister, Jin Nyum, read out a statement urging trade union members to call off the planned strike on Tuesday.

"Unions must refrain from staging a nationwide general strike at a time when the country needs concerted efforts to overcome a severe drought and recharge the economy," said an official statement.

The Korean peninsula is currently facing its worst drought since records began nearly a century ago, forcing many farmers to abandon planting crops.

President Kim Dae-Jung has already been forced to take action to end protests, when thousands of riot police stormed a chemical factory to end a union sit-in last week.

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