YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

S. Korean Rally Turns Violent; Up to 80 Seized

April 06, 1986|ANDREW HORVAT | Times Staff Writer

TAEGU, South Korea — Thousands of students clashed with riot police after a peaceful mass rally here Saturday night, ignoring pleas from opposition leaders to keep their recently emerged drive for more democracy from turning violent.

Demonstrators who started shouting, "Down with dictatorship!" and "Down with (President) Chun Doo Hwan!" later turned on foreign spectators with cries of "Yankee go home!"

Police fired tear-gas grenades at close range into a crowd of about 2,500 people, most of them students, after a small group of demonstrators beat policemen with staves and threatened to take over Taegu's city hall, which police had surrounded.

Witnesses said police arrested as many as 80 people. A foreign photographer said he was roughed up by police and his equipment was broken after he took pictures of plainclothes police dragging female demonstrators away by their hair.

Foreigners Off Limits

Demonstrators' shoes strewn along the roadside marked the spot where arrests were made.

Unlike other recent opposition demonstrations, in which outbursts of anti-American feeling were limited to the shouting of slogans, some in the crowd in Taegu tried several times to keep other Koreans from fraternizing with foreigners.

"Speak Korean," one young man said to two Korean women talking to foreign reporters. "Don't speak English."

Other demonstrators were more reserved. One man said, "This (Korean) regime started wrong."

U.S. Help Suspected

Many South Koreans believe that Chun, a former major general, could not have risen to power in May, 1980, without the help of the United States, which stations 40,000 troops in this country.

During Saturday night's march, students carried an effigy of the South Korean president labeled "Chun-Reagan Dictatorship."

The violence followed a peaceful rally and march by about 35,000 people. Organized by South Korea's main opposition party, the event was one of a series aimed at collecting 10 million signatures in a drive to change South Korea's present constitution, which was written in 1980.

Opposition leaders charge that the constitution, which calls for indirect presidential elections, gives the military-backed government an unfair advantage. Although Chun has promised to step down in 1988--to effect the first peaceful transfer of power in modern Korean history--his opponents say that unless direct presidential elections are restored, Chun will be free to handpick his successor.

Rejection of Violence

At a downtown theater, former presidential candidate Kim Young Sam, who has spent much of the past 6 1/2 years under house arrest, told crowds, "I reject any kind of violence, not only to grasp power through a military coup but also to win democracy.

"If we use violence, our people and the world will not agree with us and will give the dictator an excuse to crack down," said Kim.

Last week, South Korean officials threatened to prevent opposition politicians from using loudspeakers at their rallies. On March 30, a meeting attended by 60,000 people in Kwangju also ended with a clash between about 500 demonstrators and riot police. Ruling party politicians accused Kim and his political ally Kim Dae Jung (no relation to Kim Young Sam) of fomenting that clash, during which a government advertising sign was burned.

Although Saturday's rally organizers were able to put up loudspeakers, they had to break down a brick wall that had been erected overnight across a doorway leading to the roof of the downtown theater where the rally was held.

Civil Rights Suspended

Kim Dae Jung received 46% of the popular vote in South Korea's last direct presidential elections in 1971. Since then, his civil rights have been suspended by Chun and he has been prevented from attending any of the political rallies aimed at changing the constitution.

He addressed a rally last week in Kwangju and an earlier one in the port city of Pusan by means of a taped message.

In a speech read by one of his followers in Taegu, Kim stressed, "We are engaged in a nonviolent struggle."

In an interview earlier Saturday in Seoul, Kim said: "We need the support of the middle class. These are people who want democracy but who do not like disorder."

Ousters of Dictators

In the speech that was read here, Kim said that since the U.S.-assisted ousters of dictators in the Philippines and in Haiti, the United States has awakened to the fact that "if it supports tyranny, it will be rejected by the majority of the people in this country and elsewhere, thus helping only Communist expansionism."

On Saturday, a convoy of 15 police cars, three busloads of riot police and several motorcycle outriders pulled Kim's car to the side of a road in Seoul, blocking his way to a highway leading to Taegu. It was the third time police had prevented Kim from addressing a rally in three weeks. Kim has been placed under house arrest 13 times since returning home from exile in the United States a year ago.

Saturday's demonstration in Taegu took place on the day President Chun departed for a tour of five European countries. Taegu is considered Chun's home ground; the South Korean president was educated here. His chief political ally, Roh Tae Woo, the head of the government's Democratic Justice Party, is also from this city.

Los Angeles Times Articles