SEOUL, Dec 18: Brawling South Korean lawmakers tried to sledgehammer their way into a parliamentary meeting room barricaded by the ruling party as the National Assembly descended into chaos on Thursday over a free trade agreement with the United States.

Opposition parties were incensed by the ruling Grand National Party’s move to submit the agreement to a committee on trade, setting in motion the process for the accord to win approval in the legislature.

Security staff and aides from the ruling party stood guard outside the room to keep opposition lawmakers away, after the committee’s GNP-affiliated chairman invoked his right to use force to ‘keep order’ in parliamentary proceedings.

Scuffles broke out as dozens of opposition members and their aides attempted to push their way into the office. TV footage showed people from both sides shoving, pushing and shouting in a crowded hall at the National Assembly building amid a barrage of flashing cameras.

Opponents later used a sledgehammer and other construction tools to tear open the room’s wooden doors, only to find barricades of furniture set up inside as a second line of defence.Cable news channel YTN reported that an electric saw was used to open the door. YTN footage showed security guards spraying fire extinguishers at those trying to force their way inside and one man with blood trickling down his face.

The opposition attempt failed, and 10 GNP legislators introduced the bill to the committee.

“This is a clear violation of law,” the main opposition Democratic Party said in a statement, accusing the GNP of illegally occupying the parliamentary chamber and unilaterally introducing the bill. “This is a declaration of war against the opposition and the people.”

Clashes between lawmakers are not unusual in the National Assembly. Such violence has long been cited as one of the worst ills of South Korean politics.

South Korea and the United States signed the accord that calls for slashing tariffs and other barriers to trade in April last year after 10 months of tough negotiations, though neither side’s legislature has yet ratified it — the key step needed for it to take effect.

The pact is the largest for the US since the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico and the biggest ever for South Korea. Nafta, signed in 1993, took effect the following year.—AP

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