The Associated Press November 22, 2011, 3:18AM ET

SKorea's parliament ratifies US trade deal

South Korea's parliament ratified a long-stalled free trade deal with the United States on Tuesday after ruling party lawmakers forced a vote amid shouts and shoves from opposition rivals.

South Korean lawmakers voted 151 to 7 in favor of ratifying the free trade agreement in a surprise legislative session called by the ruling Grand National Party, parliamentary officials said.

Shouts filled the National Assembly as lawmakers pushed, shoved and screamed while ruling party lawmakers forced their way onto the parliamentary floor. One opposition lawmaker fired tear gas, and some lawmakers were seen wiping their eyes after being doused with the chemical, YTN television reported.

President Lee Myung-bak's ruling party commands a majority in South Korea's single-chamber, 295-seat parliament but hadn't forced the deal through earlier, apparently out of worry over a public backlash ahead of next year's presidential and parliamentary elections.

Lawmakers have been wrangling over ratification of the free trade deal since U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama approved the deal last month after years of divisive debate in the U.S.

Opposition lawmakers say the deal favors U.S. over South Korean workers.

The deal is America's biggest free-trade agreement since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

Two-way trade between South Korea and the United States totaled about $90 billion last year, according to Seoul's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The two countries are key security allies in Asia, with about 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea as deterrence against potential North Korean provocations.

South Korea, a major exporter of industrial goods such as automobiles and consumer electronics, has aggressively sought free trade agreements and already has several in effect, including with Chile, India, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the European Union.


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