SEOUL, South Korea -- Riot police fired tear gas Saturday at hundreds of protesters and opposition leaders to forestall a rally demanding a new probe into the alleged torture of jailed dissidents.
Authorities also placed 12 prominent opponents, including opposition leader Kim Dae Jung, and an undisclosed number of leading student activists under house arrest to stop the demonstration, political sources said.
More than 2,000 riot police ringed Myongdong Cathedral hours before the 2 p.m. scheduled start of the rally and blocked leading members of the opposition New Korea Democratic Party from reaching the church.
Opposition leaders Kim Young-sam and Lee Min-wu, and other ranking members of the New Korea Democratic Party returned to their headquarters and began a sit-in in protest.
When some 700 people including party members and students tried to march to the cathedral from another direction, police fired tear gas to disperse them. Some of the protesters staged street sit-ins and others hurled rocks at police.
There were no immediate reports of injuries.
Some of the 3,000 people gathered to watch the confrontation cheered protesters and shouted anti-government slogans.
A government spokesman said authorities decided not to permit the demonstration pressing for a new investigation into the alleged sexual harassment and torture of jailed dissidents because 'it is a rally intended to cause social confusion and agitation.'
The rally was sponsored by the major opposition party and 33 dissident organizations who disputed the findings of a government probe into accusations that Kwon In-suk, a 22-year-old college dropout, was sexually harassed while being questioned by police about involvement in anti-government activities. They also accused police of torturing other jailed dissidents.
The official probe found that a police officer, Moon Kwi-dong, 39, had used physical violence during Kwon's interrogation but said she had not been sexually abused. They did not address the torture charges.
A government spokesman dismissed Kwon's accusations of sexual abuse as a 'false allegation' and 'a routine tactic used by student radicals.'
Authorities fired Moon and took punitive actions against four of his superiors.