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A South Korean appeal court said the layoff of 153 employees at Ssangyong Motor Co. in 2009 was unjustified, in a belated victory for auto workers who fought pitched battles with riot police at the time.

The 153 were among 2,600 workers that Ssangyong tried to shed in 2009, sparking South Korea's worst labor strife in years. A spate of suicides among Ssangyong workers and family members followed the automaker's restructuring.

If Supreme Court of Korea upholds the ruling, the workers will be able to return to the company now owned by Indian conglomerate Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd.

The appeal court said Friday the layoffs in 2009 could not be justified because it was not clear that the job cuts were vital to Ssangyong's survival.

To justify the layoffs, Ssangyong exaggerated its losses by under-reporting auto sales and omitting future cash-flow from new models, the court said in a statement.

The maker of SUVs and luxury sedans was hit by the 2008 financial crisis and slumping sales, but Judge Cho Hae-hyeon said the automaker did not go to sufficient lengths to save jobs.

Kwon Young-gook, the attorney who represented former Ssangyong workers, said the unexpected ruling was a victory for justice.

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