SEOUL, AUG. 23 -- South Korea's ruling party expressed regret today at the "extremely unfortunate" death of a young shipyard worker and urged the government to show "maximum patience and restraint" in handling the nation's labor unrest.

More than 1,000 shipyard workers on the southern island of Koje surrounded the hospital where Lee Sok Kyu, 22, died Saturday after a clash between protesting strikers and riot police. Lee became the first fatality of labor strife that has surged here since July 1, when the hitherto authoritarian government promised a new era of democracy.

Demonstrating workers, who reportedly welded shut the mortuary doors, prevented police from performing an autopsy, apparently because they believed that the government might conceal the cause of Lee's death. Several newspapers, citing doctors' reports, said Lee died when fragments of a tear-gas grenade pierced his right lung.

Despite the emotion surrounding the death of the young employe of Daewoo Shipyard and Machinery Ltd., its effect on the volatile political scene here remains unclear. Several workers interviewed at other Daewoo plants today said they do not believe that his death will trigger more protests outside the remote island of Koje.

"As long as the company shows some real remorse and gives some real compensation, there won't be any trouble," said a worker at Daewoo Motor Co., the giant Daewoo conglomerate's automobile maker.

When Lee Han Yol, a Yonsei University student, died after a police tear-gas grenade put him into a coma earlier this summer, he became a symbol of the struggle for democracy. His death led to renewed clashes between students and police, and his funeral attracted hundreds of thousands of people. But an assistant foreman at Daewoo Motor Co. noted today that students hold a special place as moral exemplars in Korean society.

"Lee Han Yol was killed by police while he demonstrated for democracy, a bigger cause than in this case," the employe said. "This man {Lee Sok Kyu}, although he was demonstrating for higher wages and better working conditions, it was a lesser cause, so it won't have the same effect."

Labor disruptions continued at hotels, factories, department stores and workshops across the nation. The Labor Ministry reported that more than 1,600 firms have been hit by strikes or stoppages since July 1, with two-thirds of those resolved.

The government said 541 disputes remained unsettled today, compared with 511 yesterday.

A Daewoo motor assembly line laborer said worker grievances stem from decades of restrictive government policy, when most unions were prohibited and wages were kept low to promote growth and exports.

"There has to be communication between worker and management, but there hasn't been any channel for it," the worker said. "So now it's all coming out at once."

Among the unsettled strikes were several affecting South Korea's tourist industry. Workers continued to occupy the lobbies of the downtown Lotte and Seoul Plaza hotels, and ground crews at Seoul's Kimpo International Airport extended their strike for a second day. Airport officials said international flights were delayed an average of 45 minutes.

At the Daewoo shipyard, with 15,000 workers the nation's second largest, the company made no comment on Lee Sok Kyu's death. Sources said executives might issue a statement Monday.

The two major parties called for investigations into the circumstances of Lee's death.

"The worker's death is the most unfortunate and regrettable incident," Lee Min Sok, spokesman for the ruling Democratic Justice Party, said. "The government has to cope with the case with the maximum patience and self-restraint."

The opposition Reunification Democratic Party expressed remorse and sent two officials to Koje to look into the circumstances of the case. The opposition party also said it planned to call for the convening of a National Assembly committee to deal with the death and the overall labor strife.

Several thousand people, mostly students, rallied at Yonsei University in Seoul in support of striking workers. They clashed briefly with police, who fired tear gas when students tried to march off the campus.

Home Minister Chung Kwan Yong ordered the national police chief to publicize the results of his investigation of Lee's death "truthfully," no matter what it reveals.

Workers on Koje suspended efforts to resolve their dispute until after Lee's funeral later this week, which they said would be a "democratic worker's funeral" in the shipyard.

The shipyard's troubles started two weeks ago, when workers began picketing for higher wages. The company locked out workers on Friday, saying bargaining had been fruitless.

Angered by that move, several thousand workers took to the streets of Okpo Saturday afternoon. When they moved toward the Okpo Tourist Hotel, where the shipyard president was staying, riot police fired about 100 rounds of tear gas, according to witnesses.

Besides Lee, 20 workers were injured.

Workers later ransacked the hotel looking for shipyard executives. One Japanese businessman was slightly injured as he jumped from his upstairs room when he heard the workers coming.