KWANGJU, South Korea — Roh Tae Woo, the ruling party nominee for president, was hit with an egg and tear-gassed Wednesday as he brought his election campaign to the heart of opposition country.
Speaking to a tightly controlled audience in a local sports arena, Roh made no mention of the 1980 Kwangju uprising that President Chun Doo Hwan put down with brutal military force. Roh, then a general, headed the Seoul security command at the time. Instead, he stressed the future, saying that "democracy is for the common people, for stabilization, for national independence."
The arena held 15,000 people, and they responded with loud cheers to Roh's 12-minute speech.
Earlier, on his way into the arena, Roh was hit in the face with an egg, one of several thrown at the procession. Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, he wiped his face and pressed on.
"Just a side dish of democracy," he said of the incident at a press conference.
In late afternoon, Roh appeared at a suburban market, and the crowd there was broken up when a tear-gas grenade was thrown from a window of an adjacent building. The grenade landed about two yards from Roh. A government news agency account of the incident blamed a student protester, but said no arrest was made.
In Kwangju, memories of the 1980 uprising are still vivid, and Roh, Chun's hand-picked nominee, could not have expected a warm reception. Nevertheless, he struck an optimistic tone in his speech, emphasizing his identification with the ruling party's policy switch to support political reforms that followed nationwide anti-government demonstrations in June.
"We have done a great thing," he said. "What the advanced Western countries have achieved in hundreds of years, we did in our own time through the independence of spirit of you young people."
His visit to Kwangju also included a surprise stop at the tomb of a Roh ancestor.
Origins are important in South Korea, where regional rivalries are often bitter, based in part on differences of local custom and dialect. Kwangju is in the Cholla region, in the southwest, and Roh is a native of the Kyongsang region, in the southeast. Opposition to Roh is based in part on this regionalism.
But, Choi Young Chul, a ruling party lawmaker from Kwangju, told the rally here: "Roh Tae Woo's ancestor is buried here on the Samgak Mountain. He (Roh) is a Cholla person."
Furthermore, Choi added: "I live near Mr. Roh. Every morning I meet him at the public bathhouse. There, naked, he discusses politics with equally naked neighbors. This is a great common person. He will serve the people as a commoner."