It is the first time that President Roh Moo-Hyun, under criticism from businesses for perceived softness towards labour activism, has acted against work strikes since taking office in February.
|South Korean government|
resorts to heavy force
About 5,400 riot police troops burst into Yonsei University in central Seoul, where a few thousand railway workers were staging a sit-in, witnesses said.
Police hauled off 650 workers for questioning, but union president, Jeon Hwan-Kyu and others were believed to be among 3,000 who fled the scene, minutes before the police action.
Scores of young workers put up limited resistance, engaging in punching and kicking with riot policemen wielding sticks and shields.
Riot police were also sent to the central city of Yeongi and southeastern Yeongju where thousands of workers from the Korean National Railroad (KORAIL) had gathered.
The use of riot police came after thousands of unionized workers from the Korean National Railroad (KNR) went on strike early on Saturday, crippling train services.
The strike forced a 57 percent cut in the number of trains running on Saturday, while rail freight was hit the worst as services were running at only 10 percent of normal levels.
The union went on strike, accusing the government of breaching an earlier promise to consult workers over a plan to privatise the railways.
Construction and Transportation Minister, Choi Jong-Chan, said the plan for reforming the state-run railways could not be subject to labour disputes, labelling the strike illegal.