SEOUL, South Korea – Hundreds of competing lawmakers screamed and wrestled in South Korea's parliament Wednesday as a rivalry over contentious media reform bills descended into a brawl that sent at least one to a hospital.
Lawmakers from the ruling Grand National Party occupied the speaker's podium in a bid to quickly pass the bills aimed at easing restrictions on ownership of television networks. Opposition parties responded by stacking up furniture to block ruling party members from entering the main hall of the National Assembly.
The parliament plunged into chaos, as lawmakers scuffled and shouted abuse at each other. Women lawmakers from the rival parties joined in the melee, grabbing each other by the neck and trying to bring opponents to the floor.
YTN television network reported some were injured. One woman lawmaker was seen lying on a blue mattress with nurses checking her blood pressure. The lawmaker was later taken to a hospital, YTN said.
The scenes were not unusual to South Korea's confrontational and melodramatic politics, where rival parties sometimes resort to violence to get their way. Last year, opposition lawmakers used sledgehammers to pound their way into a parliamentary committee room to block the ruling party from introducing a bill to ratify a free trade pact with the United States.
The opposition strongly opposes the proposed media reforms that would ease restrictions on large businesses and newspapers owning stakes in major broadcasting stations. They claim the move is a ploy by the government of President Lee Myung-bak to get more sympathetic media coverage by allowing large conservative newspapers to get into the broadcasting business.
Despite the opposition lawmakers' attempt to blockade the National Assembly, ruling party legislators managed to get into the hall and rammed through the bills amid angry shouts from their opponents. Some opposition lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to jump on to the speaker's podium. They were dragged away by ruling party lawmakers.
As the vice parliamentary speaker announced the passage of one bill, parliamentary security guards rushed to cover him for fears that opposition lawmakers might hurl something, which has happened in the past. The deputy speaker is affiliated with the ruling party.
The main opposition Democratic Party said the voting had procedural problems and it will seek a court injunction to invalidate the move.
"The National Assembly, the hall of the people's will, was brutally trampled and infringed upon today," the party said in a statement.
The ruling Grand National Party rejected the claim and accused the opposition of using violence and of being insincere during negotiations to find a compromise on the bills.
"This kind of tragedy should never be repeated again," it said in a statement.
The Grand National Party controls the 294-member unicameral National Assembly with 169 seats. The main opposition Democratic Party has 84 seats.