South Korean police chief apologizes for deaths of two farmers

South Korea's police chief apologized Tuesday for the deaths of two farmers after a violent protest last month in Seoul against the World Trade Organization and vowed to hold accountable those responsible. "I convey condolences to the bereaved family members and fellow farmers," Huh Joon-young, Commissioner General of the Korean National Police Agency, said in a nationally televised press conference.

"I sincerely apologize to the public as I severely blame myself for the failure of police to carry out their responsibility for human rights and safety," Huh added, though he indicated he wouldn't step down.

His apology came a day after South Korea's human rights panel said the deaths of the two farmers, Hong Deok-pyo and Jeon Yong-cheol, probably came as a result of police violence during the rally near the National Assembly on Nov. 15.

Jeon's death on Nov. 24 likely resulted from brain injuries caused by a concussion after being knocked over by riot police, the National Human Rights Commission said.

Hong died on Dec. 18 of complications arising from damage to his cervical vertebrae by an outside force, the commission said, suggesting police violence may have been the cause.

South Korean farmers, angry over moves to further open the country's rice market, held a series of rallies, some violent, in the capital ahead of a WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong held this month. Hundreds of South Korean farmers also held violent protests in Hong Kong during the WTO meeting, which ended Dec. 18 with trade ministers around the world agreeing to eliminate farm export subsidies by 2013, reports the AP. I.L.

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