Tension is mounting again at the Ssangyong Motor plant in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, as police gear up to use force to disperse hundreds of laid-off union workers who have occupied the factory for about 50 days.

Police removed steel containers and other barricades that blocked four major entrances to the troubled carmaker and were standing guard at the four major gates at the weekend, keeping outsiders off the premises, the Korea Times reported.

Police said they had secured the gates as a toehold for the possible dispersion of the union members by force. "We occupied the gates in preparation for the use of police force,'' an officer said. "But we will make a final decision after watching the situation further.''

The union has refused to budge. "If the police want to make another tragedy, go ahead. All responsibilities will fall on the government and the company,'' the union said in a statement. "We will fight to the end. This factory is the last fortress labourers cannot give up.''

Lee Chang-geun, a union leader added, "We urge the government to withdraw police and turn up at the negotiation table to normalise the factory.''

Food and medicine were not allowed to pass through the gates, the paper noted.

Employees and executives of the company shelved a plan that would have seen them enter the factory today (13 July) to avoid a clash with the union members. But they demanded that the government use police force to disperse the striking union members as soon as possible.

A Ssangyong executive said, "The factory should come under our control by the end of the month. Given it takes 10 days to normalise assembly lines, the protesters should be dispersed this week. That's the only way for our survival.''

On Friday, 4,500 people filed a collective petition for the use of police force with the government, saying "The prolonged confrontation will lead to a collapse of the company, its hundreds of subcontractors and dealerships.''

Police have been reluctant to get involved in the management-labour confrontation which started after a massive layoff announced last month as part of restructuring efforts to keep the company afloat and avoid liquidation. The SUV maker has been under bankruptcy protection since February.