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Supreme Court backs naval base

Ruling clears way for controversial military facility on Jeju Island

Riot police hold back protesters on Jeju Island Riot police hold back protesters on Jeju Island
  • Stephen Hong, Seoul
  • Korea
  • July 6, 2012
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The Supreme Court in Seoul yesterday ruled the military could continue construction of a controversial naval base on Jeju Island, a popular tourist destination, following a long-running legal battle with residents.

South Korea’s top court returned the case back to the Appellate Court which had previously determined the initial base construction plan was invalid for lack of environmental assessments, a decision overturned by the Supreme Court yesterday which found the study was done in 2010.

Residents and activists criticized the court’s decision amid fears it would speed up construction at the site, already the scene of a number of standoffs between protesters and the authorities.

“The Supreme Court should be the last bastion of the weak but ruled in favor of the powerful,” said Kang Dong-kyun, the village head of Gangjeong where the naval base is being built.

Opponents of the base would file a constitutional appeal, he added.

“The Church will stand by Gangjeong’s people, irrespective of the court’s ruling,” said Columban Father Patrick Cunningham, who was recently threatened with deportation because of his activities opposing the base.

Ko Gwon-il, president of the Committee against the Naval Base in Gangjeong, said the court had been hijacked by politics in a move that served to bolster the government’s hardline policies.

“What local residents want is just the government’s sincere attitude to listen to them,” he said.

The navy said yesterday it would move ahead with construction of the base, which is already more than 20 percent completed, it added, having spent 207 billion won of the total 977 billion won (US$860 million) budgeted.

The navy has said previously that the base will become home to 20 warships and two 150,000-tonne cruise vessels.

In 2009, Gangjeong residents filed a lawsuit against then defense minister Kim Kwan-jin in a bid to halt construction of the base.

Since then, the project has faced protests from local residents, environmentalists and religious groups who claim the base will cause environmental damage to the island, a famous tourism destination and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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