SEOUL, South Korea — In the small hours of this morning, the anger of Kim Dae Jung's fervid supporters rose as the votes came in for ruling party candidate Roh Tae Woo.
"Roh should be at the bottom, not the top," seethed Chang Sung Ki, 31, wife of a civil servant. "The only way he could be leading is fraud."
The populist Kim, Chang's choice in Wednesday's hotly contested South Korean presidential election, was running third at the time.
"We Koreans don't like violence," added Kim Dong Ki, a 31-year-old technician, "but the government keeps doing things like this. There isn't any way to stop them except violence."
Kim Dong Ki and Chang were among an angry crowd of 5,000 students, workers and housewives, some carrying infants, who had gathered in the courtyard of the Kuro Ward office in southern Seoul. There, in mid-afternoon, Kim Dae Jung supporters had seized a ballot box containing absentee ballots, as well as a cardboard box containing other ballots, a pickup truck and the driver of the truck.
Eight soldiers armed with M-16 rifles, pistols and carbines fled the scene when the truck was stopped.
Student poll watchers found the ballot box and other materials concealed under empty bread boxes and trash in the bed of the truck.
Early this morning, a group of students was still sitting on the ballot box and surrounding the truck, backed by thousands of other citizens in the ward office courtyard.
"Outside there are 5,000 police. They will soon come in," a young woman shouted to them over a loudspeaker on a campaign van. "So we'll have to fight. Don't go home tonight! Stay here and guard the ballot box to the death!"
Charges May Ignite Protests
The standoff at Kuro was but one incident--in which suspicion of election fraud ran deep but evidence remained thin--in a night filled with charges of cheating that threatened to ignite protests over Roh's victory.
In Myung Jin, a Protestant pastor and spokesman of the dissident National Coalition for Democracy, declared:
"We had feared the election could not be held fairly and in a good atmosphere. Unfortunately our expectation was correct."
He charged that thousands of election violations had taken place across the country--3,000 in Seoul alone--and that "the government is entirely responsible for these unfortunate happenings, due to its election-rigging activities."
As accusations of fraud by Roh's ruling Democratic Justice Party mounted, Park Shin Il, director of the Korean Overseas Information Office, released a post-midnight statement, saying in part:
"We regret that some opposition groups are making unsupported allegations of widespread irregularities. . . . It is the policy of the government to investigate each and every alleged case of irregularities and to punish those involved. On the other hand, I would like to add that in the past, most similar opposition charges have not been supported by the evidence."
Whatever the past experience, it did not stop the allegations this time.
Posters List Charges
At the Christian Building in downtown Seoul, posters enumerating charges of fraud were spread across the front doors and the lobby walls like wallpaper. Upstairs in the offices of the National Council of Christian Churches and the National Coalition for Democracy, which masterminded 18 days of street protests in June that forced Roh and President Chun Doo Hwan to accept opposition demands for the direct presidential election, staff workers were swamped with phone calls, each reporting charges of election fraud.
Many involved suspicious circumstances like those at the Kuro Ward office.
Park Young Whan, 27, a worker for Kim Dae Jung's Party for Peace and Democracy who was supervising the guard over the ballot box, charged that two men had been caught on the third floor of the ward office "making false votes."
Kim's supporters said they found a judge, Shim Il Dong, and a police inspector, Chun Yong Chan, in the third-floor room.
"What are you doing here?" the protesters shouted as they kicked and punched the judge who appealed futilely for the crowd to calm down, according to accounts of the confrontation.
Park said that election officials took three absentee voters' ballot boxes from the ward office to a counting station before students discovered a fourth one hidden under bread boxes.
Five more absentee ballot boxes were under guard inside the ward office, which Kim's supporters occupied throughout the night.
Panel Denies Illegalities
The Central Election Management Commission denied that any illegalities had occurred, asserting that movement of absentee ballots from ward offices to counting stations before the voting ended was permissible. It offered no comment about the charges that the ballot box and the cardboard box containing votes were hidden under the bread boxes.