SEOUL, South Korea — Looking out over a multitude of 100,000 students sitting cross-legged on a rugby field in front of him Saturday, Kim Dae Jung suddenly interrupted his speech.
"There is a red flag out there at the back," said the man branded as a leftist rabble-rouser by the authoritarian South Korean government of President Chun Doo Hwan.
"I don't know what it symbolizes," Kim said angrily, "but take it down!"
He fell silent and waited. Tension spread as thousands of students stood up and looked to the rear to see what he was talking about. It was a red flag--emblem of a student group that had been hoisted on a goal post at one end of Yonsei University's rugby field.
For Kim, 63, the opposition's candidate in the country's last direct presidential election 16 years ago, this was the moment of judgment in his first appearance in seven years before a nearly all-student crowd that was a mixture of radicals and moderates.
Exiled, kidnaped, placed under house arrest repeatedly, jailed, and even sentenced to death since he ran for president in 1971, Kim had been called a "man of the past" by today's most radical students. Supporters of President Chun, who only last July restored Kim's civil rights, had contended throughout the 7 1/2 years of the former army general's authoritarian rule that the people no longer know or support Kim.
Indeed, none of the students at Saturday's 4 1/2-hour meeting, sponsored by the National Coalition for a Democratic Constitution, was out of elementary school when Kim polled 45% of the vote against President Park Chung Hee in 1971.
Only last Sunday, a student federation had canceled a Kim speaking invitation because students at Korea University were too divided on whether to boycott the forthcoming election to listen to a presidential hopeful.
Demand Risked Incident
Kim's demand that the red flag be lowered--to many of the students, an old-fashioned, anti-Communist gesture--clearly risked creating an incident. But within seconds the flag was lowered. The crowd cheered.
"Thank you," Kim said, and resumed speaking.
The gathering wasn't the day's biggest in Seoul. More than half a million conservative Christians gathered at an outdoor rally in Yoido Plaza to pray for peace and urge reconciliation between the ruling and opposition parties.
But it was the fifth time in the last month that Kim has drawn crowds in the tens of thousands. The smallest was about 50,000 in Taejon. The biggest--about 300,000--flocked to see him in Kwangju, capital of his native Chollanam province.
This time, Kim wasn't the sole attraction. Seven speakers preceded him and kept him waiting for nearly 2 1/2 hours.
When he arrived, the crowd numbered about 50,000. But as Kim's turn neared, it swelled to 100,000, filling the entire field. Another 10,000 were seated in the surrounding hills.
Not The Best Orator
Kim, who has built a reputation as South Korea's most charismatic politician, was not the best orator Saturday.
The Rev. Moon Ik Hwan, a prominent dissident leader released from jail only last July, held the students spellbound with an emotional plea to fight the remaining rounds of a struggle for democracy as the promised direct presidential election approaches. It is scheduled to be held by Dec. 20.
Even a representative of the urban poor and an official of the Catholic Farmers Union appeared to draw more intense interest, and occasional laughter, than did Kim.
Kim also was clearly the most conservative of the speakers. Only he spoke out against communism and only he refrained from anti-American comments.
Twice he mentioned the United States--but only to declare that the leaders of the 600,000-strong South Korean armed forces, known to consider him anathema, must stay out of politics.
"If the military must have 40,000 American troops come here to help guard the nation's security (against Communist North Korea), how can it have leeway to interfere in politics?" he shouted.
His tone contrasted with that of other speakers at the rally.
Kim said he has no objection to big business and a capitalist economy, but a student chant during another address demanded, "Dissolve the Federation of Korean Industries, which suppresses workers!"
A chant of "Down with the murderous fascist regime!" contrasted with Kim's appeal to refrain from revenge against the Chun government if it is defeated in the coming election.
Critics say that "I would carry out revenge if I were elected president because I have suffered the most," Kim said. "But I say only the victim himself has the right to forgive and seek reconciliation."
Kim's allotted 40 minutes passed, and he said he would have to stop.
"Go on! Go on!" the crowd roared, and he did.
Once again, Kim, an adviser to the opposition Reunification Democratic Party, promised that the opposition will field a single candidate against Roh Tae Woo, Chun's handpicked nominee, in the December election. Again, Kim refused to say if that candidate would be he or Kim Young Sam, 58, president of the opposition party.
"I am not a patient suffering from an addiction for the presidency," Kim said. "I will never betray the wishes of our people. We will realize a single opposition candidacy, but it must be done in a way that can terminate military dictatorship.
"I don't know when or how we will reach agreement on a single candidate, but I promise you, we will field a single candidate," Kim declared.
As the speech ended, the crowd stood as one. A band of students carrying the red flag that Kim had ordered taken down surged toward the podium. Tension rose--until the flag-bearing students started chanting "Chulma! Chulma! Chulma!" or Run! Run! Run!, (for president).