JoonGang Daily, South Korea.
Thursday, June 08, 2006.
Health Minister Ryu Simin visited Mapo Bridge in Seoul yesterday, hoping to bring an end to rallies by visually impaired protesters that began last month after a court ruled that laws granting massage licenses only to the blind are unconstitutional.
"The Constitutional Court's decision should be respected without question, but the ministry will look for ways to help blind massagers to work as proud professionals," Mr. Ryu told about 20 protesters.
"We cannot live in this situation," the men told him at yesterday's rally.
The health ministry plans to revise the medical law by mid-June; two representatives from the group will participate in a committee to work on the revision.
The minister asked Kwon In-hee, the group's leader, to stop the rallies at the bridge, which have continued for more than 10 days. During that time, eight blind men were rescued by police at different times after jumping into the Han River.
The Constitutional Court, in announcing its ruling on May 25, said "The regulation fundamentally limits the freedom of other people to choose jobs."
On May 29 in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, a blind man in his 40s tried to set himself on fire but was stopped by police. About 40 blind men blocked subway tracks at Hoehyun Station in Seoul on May 30, disrupting train operations for about an hour. On June 4, a blind massager in his 40s jumped to his death from an apartment building in Seoul. The protesters said he had been frustrated by the court's decision.
In a press conference at the National Assembly on June 5, Na Jong-chun, president of the Korea Massager Association, charged that the court's decision caused the man's death: "How could the freedom of choosing jobs be more important than a blind man's right to live?"
According to the association, there are 6,804 qualified massagers in the country, working at 1,073 registered massage parlors. The regulation to give the blind exclusive rights to qualify for a massage license has been in force for about 90 years, since 1915.
Twelve specialized schools for the blind with around 1,400 students have closed since last week in protest. Students from around the country plan to hold another rally near Myeongdong Cathedral today.
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