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S. Korea Protests Flare as Universities Reopen

September 02, 1987|DAVID HOLLEY | Times Staff Writer

SEOUL, South Korea — The students of Seoul National University gathered Tuesday on the strategic heights above the entrance to their campus. Hurling stones and gasoline bombs at the police, the protesters chanted for the blood of their country's top leaders.

"Execute Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo," they cried, referring to South Korea's president and the head of its ruling party. "Topple the military dictatorship."

In response, helmeted riot police in gas masks and carrying protective shields fired tear-gas grenades up the hill. They charged, forcing the students to retreat.

Then, in the ritualized semi-warfare that has developed here over many student demonstrations, the police withdrew toward the campus gates, and the students moved forward again.

For three hours, the fight ebbed and flowed. A few police officers were hurt by rocks and a few students were arrested, but little serious harm appeared to have been done on either side.

The police succeeded, however, in containing the demonstration to the university campus.

Despite the clouds of gas, as dusk fell, a few hundred students were still shouting and hurling missiles. Again the police fell back, and finally the remnants of the 3,000 students broke into a protest song and headed away toward the center of campus.

Thus was observed the first day of the fall semester at South Korea's largest university.

"This is only the beginning of a bigger struggle," said one of the demonstrators, a soft-spoken young man who declined to give his name, as he walked off campus half an hour later.

The return to campus marked the reintroduction of radical student activism to South Korea's explosive mix of political tension. It came as South Korea's ruling Democratic Justice Party and the opposition Reunification Democratic Party were engaged in sensitive maneuvers aimed at holding a presidential election in December.

19 Campus Protests

Students demonstrated Tuesday at 19 campuses across the country, according to reports in the Korean press. The most important demonstration was the one at Seoul National University, which was also attended by students from Yonsei University and Ewha Women's University.

The student body presidents of all three universities were arrested last month for allegedly anti-government activities. Demand for their release was one of the main themes of Tuesday's rally here.

According to the authorities, one of the jailed student leaders, Woo Sang Ho of Yonsei University, is accused of showing contempt for the state in comments published Aug. 2 in the New York Times.

Woo was quoted as saying that "there will be some violence" if the police try to prevent students from carrying out peaceful demonstrations. "Violence against Nazis was legitimate," he was quoted as saying, and "the fascism in Korea is directly related to Hitler's Nazism."

Impassioned Speech

Woo's mother delivered an impassioned speech, laced with anger and ridicule, at Tuesday's demonstration.

"Send my son back to me now," Woo's mother, Park Byung Hee, cried out, thrusting her fist into the air. "Send him back!"

"Send him back!" the students roared in response.

Park said afterward that this was the first time she had ever addressed a political rally.

"I am an ordinary housewife," she said. "All I know is a housewife's words. I was able to muster courage to speak out from my heart because I know my son's course is right."

Lee Young Ku, the father of the student body president at Seoul National University, Lee Nam Ju, also endorsed the students' struggle.

"After my son was arrested, I went to the prison where he is held," he told the crowd. "A high wall separated him and me. I thought, who will topple this high wall that separates fathers and sons, mothers and daughters? And I concluded: Only you, the students."

The students also chanted anti-American slogans, calling for an end to U.S. support of the Chun government. They expressed support for labor in the wave of strikes that has swept the country in recent weeks and called for installation of an interim government to supervise presidential elections.

Against this background of student radicalism and continuing demands by labor, Roh, the ruling party leader, and Kim Young Sam, president of the opposition party, are scheduled to meet today to discuss the timetable for presidential and parliamentary elections.

Roh is his party's presidential nominee; either Kim Young Sam or Kim Dae Jung, the opposition's other top leader, is expected to be the Reunification Democratic Party nominee.

At today's meeting, Kim Young Sam is expected to press the opposition's demand for the release of all political prisoners. Roh has indicated that he will seek the opposition's agreement to a joint declaration against leftist political forces.

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