SEOUL, South Korea — Prime Minister Lee Han Key warned his countrymen Friday night that the government is prepared to take "extraordinary" action if law and order are not restored in South Korea. He did not specify what steps might be taken or set a deadline.
"If we should fail to overcome the present difficulty in a peaceful manner, the nation would plunge into a major crisis, the consequences of which are hard to predict," he declared as he concluded his six-minute statement on nationwide television.
Lee's warning came as the Korean Broadcasting System reported the first fatality of the current rioting--a policeman run over by a bus commandeered by protesters in Taejon. Three other policemen were seriously injured in the bus incident involving "several thousands" of students, KBS said. Elsewhere, the day was comparatively calm.
Kim Young Sam, president of the opposition Reunification Democratic Party, said "enormous resistance from the people" will occur if the government resorts to emergency measures, including martial law.
Earlier Friday, U.S. Ambassador James R. Lilley delivered a letter from President Reagan to President Chun Doo Hwan. The American Embassy here confirmed the delivery but said only that Reagan sent the message in reply to a letter he received from Chun in early May.
Taken by Defense Chief
Chun's letter to the President was delivered by Defense Minister Lee Ki Baek when he visited Washington for regular security consultations with the United States, which maintains more than 40,000 American troops here, the embassy said.
Neither the embassy nor South Korean officials would comment on the contents of Reagan's message. It was believed to have contained an appeal for Chun to take steps toward full democracy and exercise restraint in dealing with disorders that broke out June 10.
The letter coincided with the first Reagan Administration criticism of the indirect election, involving an electoral college, under which Chun proposes to have his successor elected before he steps down next February.
William Clark, an acting assistant secretary of state, told a House subcommittee that the Administration agrees with a proposed resolution declaring that the electoral college vote for president, scheduled to take place at the end of this year, is "widely perceived in Korea as being undemocratic and susceptible to manipulation by the government."
Clark also said, "Not only political stability but the security of Korea (against the Communist north) would be enhanced by a move toward a government more broadly based."
The disturbances were triggered by the ruling party's nomination June 10 of Roh Tae Woo, its chairman and Chun's handpicked successor, to be its candidate in the scheduled indirect election for president. Chun took the step after ordering an end to debate over constitutional revision until after the 1988 Summer Olympic Games, which Seoul is scheduled to host.
Opponents of the military-backed regime demand that the constitution be revised to allow election of a president by direct popular ballot before Chun steps down.
Prime Minister Lee, in his message Friday, stressed that the government had reacted to what he called "disorderly demonstrations and mass riots . . . occurring in Seoul and other major cities" with "maximum patience and self-restraint."
"The government will adhere to this stance in the future," he said. But, he warned, if order is not restored, it will have to make "an extraordinary decision."
The prime minister said that turmoil "must be resolved through genuine political efforts under the principle of dialogue and compromise," but he failed to offer any specific proposal.
Significantly, Lee admitted openly that radical students were not the only people responsible for the troubles since June 10.
He said that students "and citizens" who "have taken to the street must refrain from disorderly collective action and return to their homes and workplaces."
Chun's government, which has insisted that the radicals, who number no more than 10,000 nationwide, form the core of opposition to the regime, has been shaken by the appearance of many average, middle-class Koreans in crowds that swelled to the tens of thousands in both Seoul and Pusan on June 10 and again Thursday.
'Dialogue and Compromise'
The prime minister also urged politicians to return to "the genuine political forum of dialogue and compromise," and religious leaders to "return to their intrinsic mission of love and harmony."
"My fellow countrymen," he said, "I plead with you to actively cooperate in our difficult situation with reason and self-restraint."
Lee's statement came on a day of nearly complete quiet on the streets of Seoul. Clashes, however, occurred in Taejon, Kwangju, Sunchon, Chunchon, and in Pusan, the nation's second largest city of 3.5 million.