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Seoul city to ban rallies in central Seoul, close Shincheonji Seoul facilities

Feb. 21, 2020 - 13:06 By Ock Hyun-ju

Seoul’s city government said Friday it will ban rallies in the center of the city and close down the facilities of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Seoul as part of efforts to rein in the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“We plan to ban use of Seoul Plaza, Cheonggye Plaza and Gwanghwamun Plaza,” Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said in a press briefing Friday, adding the municipality will notify rally organizers of the decision and consult with the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency.

The unusual move is to protect the elderly who are especially vulnerable to contagious diseases, he said, referring to massive weekend rallies in central Seoul by anti-government, conservative groups mostly comprised of those in their 60s and older.

A large-scale rally led by an association of conservative groups is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Saturday at Gwanghwamun Square. They reportedly plan to hold the rally in the lead-up to the April general elections.

Under a local health law, rallies in urban areas can be banned for public health reasons. Those who breach the measure can be fined up to 3 million won ($2,490).

The city government will also shut down four facilities of the nonmainstream Christian sect Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony in Seoul, as 82 out of 156 confirmed cases -- as of Friday early afternoon -- of the coronavirus here are linked to its branch in Daegu.

Park said the municipality will disinfect the Shincheonji facilities and allow its worship services to resume once safety can be guaranteed.

South Korea had 52 new cases of the new coronavirus on Friday morning, of which 39 cases could be traced to the Daegu unit of the Shincheonji Church.

The municipality added it will temporarily close down 3,467 social welfare centers across Seoul.

By Ock Hyun-ju (