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Blind masseurs jump from bridge

  • Story Highlights
  • Police in South Korea arrest 26 blind masseurs threatening to jump off bridge
  • Masseurs protesting government decision to let sighted people practice
  • Protesters said new policy puts jobs of 15,000 licensed masseurs at risk
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SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- Police in South Korea have arrested 26 blind masseurs who were threatening to jump from a bridge to protest a government decision they say will rob them of their livelihood.

Some of the men set fire to a car and two jumped off the bridge into Seoul's Han river, the country's national news agency Yonhap said on Thursday. No injuries were reported.

The South Korean health ministry recently decided to grant licenses to sighted masseurs and masseuses to practice certain kinds of massages.

Since 1963, the law allowed only blind people to practice the profession, Yonhap said.

The protesters said the new policy puts their jobs at risk. There are about 15,000 licensed masseurs in the country, which has a blind population of 216,000.

"Medical massage is almost the only profession that is open to the blind people. The ministry's decision is threatening our right to live," Shim Wook-seop, one of the protesting masseurs, was quoted as saying.

Another blind masseur, Dong Seong-geun, staged a lone protest in front of the Constitutional Court recently.

"I have a wife and two children to support," he told the New York Times.

"If I lose this job, I will have to beg on the streets. How can taking away one job from people who only have one compare with taking one job away from sighted people who have a hundred jobs to choose from?"

The country's Constitutional Court is expected to rule soon on an appeal filed by several sighted people who argued that the profession cannot be the exclusive domain of the blind.

The Massager Association of Korea, representing 120,000 unlicensed masseurs who are working openly and in defiance of the law, is leading the legal challenge.

The association keeps a file of members accused of practicing without a license. Those people are usually fined between $450 to $4,500, although the law calls for up to three years in prison.

"It breaks my heart when I think that what I am doing every day, what I consider my calling, is a crime," Park Yoon-soo, president of the association, told the NYT.

"We are not trying to steal jobs from the blind. We just want to share the market. We want to live as normal citizens, not as criminals."

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