Seoul: A fugitive South Korean labour leader surrendered on Thursday to police who had besieged a major Buddhist temple in Seoul where he had sought sanctuary from arrest for the past month.
After a negotiated settlement between police and Buddhist leaders, Han Sang-Gyun was allowed a choreographed exit from the Jogye Temple complex, surrounded by hundreds of uniformed police.
Han, the head of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), had sought refuge in the temple following a massive anti-government demonstration on November 14.
Armed with a warrant for his arrest on charges of inciting violence during the protest, police had given him an ultimatum to surrender by 4:00 pm (0700 GMT) Wednesday.
But a police threat to storm the temple and remove Han by force was postponed after the leader of the Jogye Order -- South Korea`s leading Buddhist organisation -- appealed for more time to resolve the standoff.
South Korean religious venues have a long history of providing refuge for political activists, most notably in the 1980s when many young pro-democracy activists who were on the run from police sought sanctuary in Catholic churches.
Although there is no legal reason preventing police entering such venues, they have traditionally opted not to do so for fear of triggering a public backlash.
The last time police raided the Jogye Temple -- to bring out seven labour activists in 2002 -- the move sparked widespread criticism.
In the end, Han emerged from his hiding place and, after paying respects at the main temple, was allowed to address his supporters and the waiting media, before surrendering to waiting police who handcuffed him and bundled him into a waiting van
"I have been fighting to stop laws that would make it easier to dismiss workers. It seems this has made me the most wanted fugitive in the country," Han said.
"I will bring my fight to court and to jail if necessary," he said.
Wearing a headband with the slogan, "Abolish the temporary workers` system," Han raised a clenched fist and led his supporters in chanting anti-government slogans before turning himself in.
The Jogye Order, which has millions of followers, had been mediating with the government ever since Han took refuge in the temple.
One monk told AFP that the activist had been on hunger strike for the past 11 days, taking only a little water and some salt.
Han`s union had been a driving force behind the November 14 rally that drew around 60,000 people to protest labour reforms and other areas of government policy.
The demonstration saw numerous violent clashes with police who used pepper spray and water cannon to disperse protestors.