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South Korean Automaker Restarts After Protests

Ssangyong Motor resumed production Thursday after a sometimes-violent strike halted output and endangered the automaker's efforts to survive.

PYEONGTAEK, South Korea (AP) -- Ssangyong Motor Co. resumed production Thursday at its sole assembly line after a sometimes-violent strike that halted output for over two months and endangered the company's efforts to survive.

Workers at South Korea's fifth-largest automaker, which has been struggling to emerge from court-approved bankruptcy protection, were assembling vehicles including the luxury Chairman W sedan at its factory in Pyeongtaek, about 45 miles (70 kilometers) south of Seoul, said company spokesman Lee Won-muk.

Ssangyong reached an agreement with its union last week after clashes between police commandos and workers who had occupied the factory's paint shop for 77 days. Dozens of strikers and police were injured. There were no deaths.

Ssangyong has been in bankruptcy protection since February amid falling sales and mounting red ink. Troubles deepened with the strike and occupation carried out to oppose a company plan to cut jobs.

The unrest ended last Thursday after a compromise was reached on layoffs. That agreement followed two days of growing pressure on the strikers by police commandos, who took increasingly stronger measures to end the strike.

Helicopter-borne commandos had battled with strikers and overran most of the chaotic factory in a series of raids, though held off from entering the inside of a highly flammable paint shop, where about 500 strikers holed up vowing all-out resistance.

In the days before the raids, police dropped tear gas from helicopters at workers on the roof of the paint shop. Strikers shot nuts and bolts at riot police using large sling shots and also lobbed firebombs.

The unrest cost Ssangyong 316 billion won ($255 million) in lost production, according to Lee, the company spokesman. The company must submit its survival plan to the court overseeing its restructuring by Sept. 15.

Ssangyong, which mostly manufactures light SUVs, is majority-owned by Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., one of China's largest vehicle manufacturers, though it lost management control amid the bankruptcy protection process.

Ssangyong planned to produce a total of 74 vehicles Thursday at two of its three productions lines at the factory, Lee said. The plant has annual production capacity of 300,000 vehicles, he said.

Shares in Ssangyong surged Thursday, hitting their 15 percent daily limit to close at 4,040 won. The company's stock price has doubled over the past week.

AP Business Writer Kelly Olsen in Seoul contributed to this report.

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