SEOUL, South Korea — Tens of thousands of Korean office workers and shoppers staggered through Seoul on Friday, crying and coughing as riot police bathed the downtown area with tear gas to quell street protesters whose numbers fell below expectations.
Simultaneous anti-government demonstrations in at least 32 other cities across South Korea were reported as more serious than those in the capital. Protesters numbered in the tens of thousands nationwide.
In the big southern port of Pusan, demonstrators commandeered eight buses and firebombed a police post. In Kwangju, site of a 1980 popular insurrection, where anti-government sentiment runs high, police were reported to have lost control of parts of the city temporarily as violent protests continued after midnight.
More than 25,000 officers in the capital fired volley after volley of pepper gas, a virulent form of tear gas, at bands of violent protesters. But they also fired indiscriminately at small, peaceful groups and at ordinary pedestrians on streets where no demonstrations were occurring.
Virtually no street within a three-square-mile area of the city center was unaffected.
Horns Blare in Protest
A blare of auto horns, which the demonstration's organizers had requested as a display of protest, continued for more than two hours, the longest yet.
Kim Young Sam, president of the opposition Reunification Democratic Party who two days ago was invited to the presidential residence, was forced into a paddy wagon, driven around town, and finally released at his home. He reported that he suffered a cut on a finger and abrasions on the left hand.
"Because of one dictator, the entire nation has to suffer like this," Kim said after returning to a downtown office.
Although most of the demonstrators were peaceful, a number of violent clashes occurred near the Hilton Hotel and the Seoul Central Railway Station, where the Korean Broadcasting System reported two groups totaling 5,000 protesters filled the streets. Two police vehicles were set on fire, and 10 riot policemen were reported pushed off an eight-foot wall into a parking lot at the Hilton Hotel by protesting students.
Rush Into Lobby
Some protesters rushed into the Hilton lobby to escape police, while several hundred others again took refuge in the Roman Catholic Myongdong Cathedral, where a sit-in by students inspired many of the demonstrations that occurred in the first six days of protest.
Throughout this capital of 10 million people, about 15,000 demonstrators turned out--far fewer than the estimated 100,000 who filled the streets June 18.
Police had feared that tens of thousands of protesters would disrupt Seoul again--an eventuality that Western diplomats had feared might provoke President Chun Doo Hwan into calling in army troops to quell the ongoing unrest that began June 10.
Earlier Friday, Chun, in a meeting with Buddhist priests at his office, had reiterated his determination "to solve the problem not with force but with patience and dialogue."
Western diplomats, who asked not to be identified, said the fact that "no wild free-for-all" occurred in Seoul had reduced the danger that Chun might call in troops. A fall-off in the number of protesters in Seoul, they added, indicated that summer vacation for college students may reduce the intensity of protests.
"But we'll continue to see more disturbances over the summer than we've ever had before," one diplomat said.
Friday's protest, called by the National Coalition for a Democratic Constitution to demand democratic reforms, was branded illegal by authorities, who mobilized 60,000 of the country's 120,000 policemen to suppress the nationwide demonstrations. Thursday night, police placed 1,817 people in preventive detention, and Friday they put 234 dissidents, including Kim Dae Jung, under house arrest for the day.
Kim, the opposition's candidate in South Korea's last free and open presidential election in 1971, had only a day earlier been released from house arrest that began April 10.
Kim Held Briefly
Kim's political ally, Kim Young Sam, was picked up off the street as he attempted to lead a march on City Hall shortly after emerging from the office of the Council for the Promotion of Democracy, an organization he co-chairs with Kim Dae Jung.
About 1,000 people had gathered in the street outside, and police threw pepper-gas grenades to disperse them. The crowd shouted slogans and sang, "Our Hope Is for Reunification" of the divided Korean nation. "Our Hope Is for Democracy," they added in chants.
"Democratic policemen, join our forces! Violent policemen, go away!" they yelled at lines of riot police blocking the street.
Only a handful of supporters managed to endure the pepper gas to hear Kim Young Sam, in a speech delivered from a window of the council's office, urge marchers to remain peaceful.