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Analysis : Huge Seoul Crowd's Message: Military-Dominated Government Must Go

July 10, 1987|SAM JAMESON | Times Staff Writer

SEOUL, South Korea — More than 1 million people in this capital--a tenth of the population--delivered the message to President Chun Doo Hwan on Thursday that democratic reform is not enough.

Military-dominated government also must end, they said with their feet, their cheers and their applause as a funeral procession for a slain student turned into the most massive anti-government rally that Chun has seen since he seized power in a coup in May, 1980.

And there was another message for both Chun and the nation's long-suffering advocates of democracy: For South Korea's small but growing bands of radical students, nothing is enough. Their actions Thursday in both Seoul and Kwangju seemed to demonstrate that violence, not merely free expression, remains their goal.

The newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported that 1 million people turned out in the capital for the funeral, its procession and what became an anti-government, anti-American rally in City Hall Plaza, a broad square where boisterous welcomes for visiting American presidents have taken place in the past.

Recalling those occasions, a man in his 40s said: "Those crowds were mobilized by the government. This one is spontaneous."

Thursday's multitude also was many times larger than any of those during 18 days of street demonstrations in June that led the authoritarian Chun to promise on July 1 that South Korea would be changed into a fully democratic nation.

Chun's pledge came two days after his handpicked successor, Roh Tae Woo, chairman of the ruling Democratic Justice Party, startled the nation by proposing to accept everything the opposition had demanded, a move many regarded as a ploy to transform Roh into a viable candidate in direct, popular presidential elections to be held by the end of the year. Chun approved Roh's proposals.

Until then, Roh was to have run in an indirect election that could be rigged to guarantee his victory.

On Thursday, the response from the masses who joined the funeral procession for a slain Yonsei University student was skepticism. Also shown was a public conviction that Roh, a former army general who helped put Chun in power, is part of a military government that itself no longer merits trust.

Chun's government, in an attempt to gain credibility, took account of the skepticism earlier in the day when it announced an amnesty and restoration of civil rights for 2,335 people. The amnesty, Information Minister Lee Woong Hee said, was aimed at dispelling "all antagonism, confrontation, disbelief and conflict which have persisted in our society."

It clearly fell short of that goal.

Radical students in the vanguard of Thursday's funeral march from Yonsei University to City Hall--the first non-government street procession that Chun has ever permitted--made up no more than a tenth of the masses assembled in the City Hall Plaza. Average citizens, shoppers, office workers, businessmen and laborers filled the square and lined the roofs of adjoining buildings.

And while the radicals confined themselves to demanding that flags at City Hall and nearby hotels be lowered to half-staff in tribute to the slain student, ordinary citizens cheered and applauded. They also cheered when students pulled down American flags from three hotels and burned one of them.

Although individual Americans, including U.S. Embassy officials, in the square were treated in friendly fashion, they received an earful of complaints about U.S. policy in South Korea.

Comments were varied; the theme was universal. The United States, they said, has supported military rule in the belief that anything else would lead to instability and an increased threat from Communist North Korea, against which about 40,000 U.S. troops are stationed here.

June's proliferation of declarations from Washington in support of reform here, coming against a background of seven years of the Reagan Administration's "quiet diplomacy," won no more credence from the citizens in City Hall Plaza on Thursday than had Chun's born-again commitment to democracy.

"When so many people want something, why doesn't the government give it to them?" asked an employee of one of the nation's largest conglomerates.

'We Have to Watch'

When a reporter commented that Chun had promised to give full democracy to the people, the business employee replied, "We have to watch these (government) people closely."

Radical leaders of the demonstration clearly had come prepared for more than just sending the casket of Lee Han Yol off to Kwangju, where the 21-year-old student was later buried.

After the funeral procession left the square, the radicals set up a platform in front of the locked doors of City Hall and began a series of harangues through a public address system they had brought along.

An Olympic Games flag atop City Hall was taken down, as students smashed open the doors, broke about 50 windows and forced their way to the roof to lower the South Korean flag to half-staff in honor of their fallen comrade.

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