Photographers' Blog

Fighters in the ring of the law

A lawmaker (C) from opposition parties climbs onto the parliament chairman's seat as they scuffle with lawmakers (L) of the ruling Grand National Party to prevent them from passing new bills including the new year's budget bill at the National Assembly plenary session hall in Seoul December 8, 2010.  REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

As the year winds down in Seoul, highly-educated fighters dressed in business attire gather for a dramatic showdown. A sky-blue colored dome theater is the venue, and this year, it was again prepared for the upcoming event. Chairs, tables and other office furniture are stacked up on the floor to block people from entering rooms. Police officers stand guard as they surround the domed theater to prepare for any emergency situations. There are ambulances and medics. All entrances to the theater are closed, with tight security allowing only those with prior authorization to enter.

Police officers stand guard in front of the National Assembly in Seoul December 8, 2010, while lawmakers and their aides from the ruling party and the opposition party scuffle.  REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

A member of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) makes his way past a barricade of furniture, created by his party to block lawmakers of the ruling Grand National Party and their aides, near an entrance of the main conference hall of parliament in Seoul December 8, 2010.  REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

The match begins. Hundreds of people, who don’t look like mixed martial arts fighters, gather in front of the gate of the main event room. They are defenders. They discuss and plan their strategies. Chanting “Keep the position,” they form scrimmages. The opponent’s fighters roll up into the hall. The offenders also make a plan on how to break through defenders’ scrimmages. They stand ready to rush. Somebody from the attackers shouts “Let’s go.” All of the offenders including dozens of women make a dash. There’s pushing and shoving. The hall is filled with screams and shouts. Camera flashes are fired at them. It’s like a red carpet ceremony. Some fighters fall and collapse. One wounded person cries with pains. Immediately medics come and take her to a hospital.

Members of the ruling Grand National Party (L) scuffle with members of the main opposition Democratic Party who were blocking entry into the main conference hall of parliament, in Seoul December 8, 2010.   REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

A security guard stands behind cracked glass at the main conference hall of parliament, after a clash between members of the ruling Grand National Party and members of the main opposition Democratic Party, in Seoul December 8, 2010.    REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

When the bell rings to signal half time, both sides are separated for bracing up. Broken glasses, stray shoes, split ID cards and many belongings are scattered around the hall. A huge glass door at the main entrance is unsightly broken. All done? No! It was just the first round. There is more excitement to come. Now we are moving to the main theater, also known as ‘National Assembly plenary session hall.’ From the comfortable seats in the gallery, we can watch the main event.

Lawmakers (L and bottom L) of the ruling Grand National Party scuffle with lawmakers of opposition parties to prevent them from blocking the parliament chairman's entrance at the National Assembly plenary session hall in Seoul December 8, 2010.   REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

The terms of victory are simple. It is all about taking over the speaker’s seat. The ensuing fight is similar to the one during the first round. There are two sides; one wants to keep their position and another tries to break them. Dozens of defenders stand around the speaker’s seat. Offenders slowly tighten their circular formation around the defenders. The offenders rush and dispose of the defenders one by one. Shouting and screaming echoes everywhere. Water bottles and paper signs fly over them. Aged and experienced participants sitting at the back side enjoy the situation and exchange jokes. Finally the winner of the 2010 sky-blue colored dome match is the offenders.

Cha Myung-jin (C), one of the lawmakers of the ruling Grand National Party, talks with fellow lawmakers after he scuffled with lawmakers from opposition parties at the National Assembly plenary session hall in Seoul December 8, 2010.   REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

Lawmakers of opposition parties help their fellow lawmaker (top) who tries to escape as they scuffle with lawmakers of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) at the National Assembly plenary session hall in Seoul December 8, 2010.  REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

Where was this? Who are the fighters? I’m sorry to say it was the National Assembly and the participants were the country’s lawmakers and their legislative aides. They are lawmakers, not professional wrestlers or comedians. It looks like fun if you’re just watching this event on television. But this was a major political incident that warranted close news coverage. The honorable fighters normally continue their fighting for several days and nights. This year I was lucky. It finished in just one day. One local paper reported it as an international disgrace, carrying a Reuters Picture Highlight page of the event. I believe that it was indeed a disgrace. But the show will go on at the end of next year.

Gloves off for political brawl

Opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators scuffle with ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators (top) at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei July 8, 2010. Taiwan legislators threw objects, splashed water and kicked one another on Thursday, sending two to the hospital in a brawl over how fast to ratify a trade pact with China that is shaping up as a pivotal election issue.   REUTERS/Nicky Loh

Legislators throwing objects, splashing water and kicking one another inside the parliament is probably one of the most interesting yet bizarre news events I’ve covered during my stint in Taiwan. Seeing grown men in suits going at each other like children, yelling and even laughing as if it was all sport, is not something you would expect to see every day.

In fact, everybody in the Taiwan media knew that the opposition DPP were going to clash with the ruling KMT party lawmakers. It was just a matter of how and when. A fellow local photographer told me that the fighting between the parties only happens when lawmakers need to send a message to the public through the media. You could even say that lawmakers act out violence to get some publicity from the media, though some of them really do get hurt in the process.

Opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators scuffle with ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators (top) at the Legislative Yuan In Taipei July 8, 2010.    REUTERS/Nicky LohThe root reason for the fighting stems from tensions between the two biggest political parties in Taiwan – the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the ruling Nationalist (KMT) Party, which is headed by the China-friendly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou. The cause of the brawl this time? Disagreements on how the recently signed Taiwan-China cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) should be reviewed.

In the custard pie firing line

When I imagined myself as a photographer for an international news agency, I imagined the battle field situations I would find myself would be in distant and dusty locations, full of grizzled commandos avoiding sniper fire and shelling. Instead I found myself in the middle of a green park in leafy Sussex with 251 six to eleven year olds ready to unleash their few years of anger upon each other; and the weapon of choice was custard pies. Their cause, was to claim the Guinness World Records title for the largest custard pie fight ever.

It was tempting to stand on the sidelines and shoot with a long lens behind the barrier alongside the heckling parents. But with the immortalised words of war photographer Robert Capa burning in my head “”If your picture isn’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” I knew what I had to do. I needed to be where the action was happening, on the frontline amongst the battle hungry children and the ammunition of waiting custard pies.

With two black bags and a length of duct tape I prepared my camera for action. Wrapping the plastic to create a protective sheath with only the filter of the lens and the flash head showing, and just enough space for my hands to control the trigger.

Taking the cows by the horns: Audio slideshow

In this audio slideshow, fighting cow owner Jean-François Rossat talks with Reuters photographer Denis Balibouse about traditional cow fights in the Alpine region of Valais, Switzerland.

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