South Korean Prime Minister Threatens Action Against Striking Trainee Doctors

SEOUL—Prime Minister Han Duck-soo issued a stark warning to striking trainee doctors on Sunday, suggesting that the government could suspend medical licenses if the ongoing walkout over a dispute concerning medical school admission quotas continues. The standoff, which has seen about 9,000 medical interns and residents abstain from their critical roles in surgeries and emergency services, shows no signs of resolution nearly two weeks after the government's set deadline for their return.

According to Yonhap News Agency, the prime minister's statements during a meeting at the main government building in central Seoul, the government is prepared to "fulfill the duty entrusted by the Constitution and the law without hesitation" if the illegal vacancy of medical sites persists. This confrontation has led to a significant rally at Yeouido Park, where approximately 20,000 doctors nationwide gathered at 2 p.m. on Sunday to voice their opposition to the government's plan to increase the medical school admission quota by 2,000 starting next year.

The presidential office also addressed allegations of doctors attempting to forcibly mobilize pharmaceutical sales representatives for the protest, emphasizing a "zero tolerance" policy towards any illegal acts. Reports of coercion emerged on online communities, with claims of doctors threatening to change prescribed drugs if sales representatives did not participate in the rally. In response to these allegations, the presidential office assured that any verified illegal activities would be treated as serious violations of the Medical Service Act.

Interior Minister Lee Sang-min, speaking on a live news program, reiterated calls for the striking doctors to return to work, offering leniency for those who comply by Sunday. This appeal comes as the government's previous ultimatum, which threatened punitive actions including criminal punishment or license revocation, has failed to end the walkout. Lee highlighted the government's stance, stating that the proposed increase in medical school admissions is necessary for the development of the bio industry, which is expected to be a future growth engine for South Korea.

Despite the government's firm warnings and the potential for serious consequences, the deadlock between the striking doctors and the authorities continues, reflecting deep divisions over the future of medical education and the provision of healthcare services in the country.

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