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1,600 Seized in S. Korea Vote Protest : Tear Gas Disperses Rioters in Crackdown on Heels of Election

December 18, 1987|Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — Police hurling tear gas grenades dispersed rioters and arrested 1,600 people today in a crackdown on students who heeded an opposition call to oppose the government election victory in the streets.

Students battled police with firebombs and rocks in scenes reminiscent of the violence last summer when they lacked the support of bystanders. Frightened pedestrians tried to flee the choking gas.

Squads of riot police in green combat fatigues and black helmets fired volleys of tear gas and charged the fleeing students.

Screaming protesters, waving clenched fists, shouted "Invalid election!" and "Down with the military dictatorship!"

Wednesday's vote was the first direct presidential election in 16 years. The government agreed to it after weeks of violent demonstrations in June that eventually were joined by hundreds of thousands of people from the working and middle classes.

Opposition leaders Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae Jung refused to accept the victory of Roh Tae Woo, candidate of President Chun Doo Hwan's government, and claimed the government won by fraud. They called for nationwide protests to keep Roh from assuming power when Chun's term ends Feb. 25. (Story, Page 16.)

Bystanders in Support

But bystanders showed support for the protesting students in the streets today. Some onlookers openly criticized protesters for refusing to accept the election results.

The worst battle was in the Kuro district of southern Seoul. Riot officers tried to dislodge about 2,000 protesters from a government building with water cannons, then stormed it in waves.

Screaming protesters hurled rocks and firebombs from the roof as 3,000 police smashed down the doors and swarmed up ladders to the second and third floors.

Vicious hand-to-hand fighting could be seen on the roof. Police fought to retake the building floor by floor. They said at least 30 people were injured and more than 1,000 arrested.

Supporters of the opposition seized the building Wednesday after claiming they saw election officials removing ballot boxes from a voting station inside. The opposition claimed the boxes were being removed so ballots could be altered.

Protesters attacked two small police posts in other parts of the capital with firebombs and flames gutted the buildings. No injuries were reported.

In the southwestern city of Kwangju, capital of Kim Dae Jung's home province, about 10,000 protesters hurling firebombs and rocks fought running street battles with riot officers. Police said 10 people were injured and 50 arrested.

Other Protests Break Out

Anti-government demonstrations and a few street fights were reported in 33 other cities. Most of the demonstrations were small and not violent.

In Washington, a top State Department official told Congress today that the Reagan Administration has no evidence of fraud that could have changed the result of Wednesday's election.

"There may have been certain irregularities, but basically no systematic fraud," Gaston Sigur, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia.

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