Ex-President Chun was at center of South Korean democracy's dark history

주경돈 / 2021-11-23 15:24:14
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Ex-President Chun was at center of South Korean democracy's dark history

SEOUL, Nov. 23 (Yonhap) -- While late former President Chun Doo-hwan is best remembered for a 1979 military coup and the bloody crackdown on a 1980 pro-democracy uprising, he was also a feared strongman who gagged the media and suppressed dissent.

Chun rose to power after the assassination of his mentor, late President Park Chung-hee, on Oct. 26, 1979.

While people expected Park's death would put an end to dictatorships and bring democracy to the country, Chun smashed that hope with a military coup just like his predecessor Park.

After seizing power, he threatened then interim President Choi Kyu-hah and expanded its enforcement of emergency martial law nationwide on May 17, 1980, and arrested the "three Kims," referring to leading politicians Kim Dae-jung, Kim Young-sam and Kim Jong-pil, putting a gag on opposing voices.

A day after the expansion of martial law, tens of thousands of students and other citizens in the southwestern city of Gwangju rose up against Chun's junta. But his military forces brutally cracked down on the democracy uprising, leaving more than 200 dead and 1,800 others wounded.

In June 1980, he launched a special committee for national security measures and disbanded the National Assembly to pave his way to the presidency.

After retiring as an Army general in August 1980, he forced Choi to resign and became president by a hand-picked electoral college. In the following year, he had his term renewed also through a hand-picked electoral college until 1988.

His government called for a society with justice, while fighting against corruption, but people really did not have freedom to speak up against Chun.

Under his ruling, the nation's electronic and print media were forced to realign and consolidate themselves through mergers, while giving reporting guidelines to the government.

Secret agents were mobilized to monitor "suspicious" activities against the government and some politicians and students were arrested and tortured for attempting to overthrow his government.

In June 1987, thousands of students and citizens occupied streets against the Chun regime, triggered by the government's crackdown for years on people's calls for democracy and public fury over the torture death of student protester Park Jong-chul.

Following the uprising, Roh Tae-woo, then presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Justice Party and Chun's friend, accepted calls for a direct presidential system in what is known as the June 29 Declaration.

In December 1987, Roh won the presidential election, putting an end to Chun's regime.

In November 1988, Chun made a public apology for having stashed away a large amount of funds during his presidency. Calling the money, "gifts and donations" from conglomerates, Chun vowed to return it to state coffers but never kept his promise.


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