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Seoul Police Firing Tear Gas Halt Protests Over Student's Torture Death

May 24, 1987|From Times Wire Services

SEOUL, South Korea — Squads of riot police, hurling tear gas over the heads of shoppers and bystanders, halted dissident students and anti-government groups Saturday from protesting over new disclosures about the investigation into the death of a fellow student while he was being tortured by police.

President Chun Doo Hwan, meanwhile, ordered his Cabinet to investigate the death of Park Jong Chul, a 21-year-old student of Seoul National University, who officials said choked when police interrogators pressed his neck against the side of a bathtub filled with water.

Chun's order followed the disclosure Saturday that prosecutors were questioning a deputy chief of the National Police, along with four other officers, to determine if they helped cover up the torture death of Park in a police office Jan. 14. Two officers have been charged with the crime.

Planned Demonstration

Students and a coalition of anti-government groups had gathered in groups of 50 or 60 Saturday morning for a planned mass demonstration in front of Pagoda Park in central Seoul to press demands for an open investigation into Park's death and for direct presidential elections.

But lines of helmeted riot police blocked the major roads leading to Pagoda Park and fired tear gas at the groups when they tried to come together. Reports said that between 700 and 1,300 protesters were detained.

Several people were reported to have been injured by the tear gas explosions.

News reports said that 10 leaders of the United Minjung (People's) Movement for Democracy and Unification had been detained Friday afternoon so they could not lead the protest, which also was to have commemorated a 1980 uprising in the southern city of Kwangju that was put down by troops, killing 200 people by official count. Dissidents say the casualties were much higher.

Public Disclosure Ordered

In a statement issued Saturday, Lee Jong Ryool, a presidential spokesman, said that Chun had "instructed the Cabinet to thoroughly investigate how the death of Park Jong Chul has been dealt with to determine if any fact about it has still not been disclosed."

He said that Chun also had ordered that "results of the investigation be disclosed to the public and that action be taken in accordance with the law."

A group of 117 opposition and dissident figures issued a statement Saturday announcing plans for a major rally June 10 to denounce what they called a government cover-up.

Regime Accused of Cover-Up

The statement said that "the very responsibility for the cover-up rests on none other than the present regime. The fabrication was impossible without a cover-up by the regime of Chun Doo Hwan."

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