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Roh Takes Over, Vows End to Repression in S. Korea

February 25, 1988|SAM JAMESON | Times Staff Writer

SEOUL, South Korea — Taking over in the first peaceful and democratic transfer of power in Korean history, President Roh Tae Woo assured his countrymen today that economic growth and military security will no longer be used as excuses to thwart democracy in South Korea.

"The day when freedoms and human rights could be slighted in the name of economic growth and national security has ended. The day when repressive force and torture in secret chambers were tolerated is over," the new president declared at his inauguration for a 5-year term.

Roh, 55, spoke in often inspirational terms, painting a picture of more prosperity and full democracy for a nation "which grew up in poverty and war." South Korea, he said, is now preparing to join "the ranks of the advanced democratic countries before the 20th Century is over."

He spoke outdoors, in front of the National Assembly building, before a crowd of 24,000 invited guests, including Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita of Japan and U.S. Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III.

In line with Roh's pledge to "open an era of the common man," nearly 20,000 people in the crowd were "ordinary people," including street sweepers, street vendors, factory workers and farmers, according to officials of the ruling Democratic Justice Party. The day was designated a national holiday.

South Korean television networks broadcast the president's remarks throughout a nation that had, for 40 years, seen only violent transfers of power--through an uprising, two coups and an assassination. During centuries of monarchal rule and then a period of colonial rule by Japan from 1910 to 1945, the country had never changed rulers democratically.

Won't' Be 'Pushed Around'

Taking over from Chun Doo Hwan, whom Roh helped install in power through a coup in 1980, the new president urged the opposition to end "irresponsibility created on the pretext of freedom." And he added a warning:

"I do not want to be a president who pushes his fellow countrymen around. But I will not be one who is pushed around by mobs either."

Reconciliation was the main theme struck by Roh, who won only a 37% plurality in a four-way presidential election Dec. 16.

He pledged to "listen to the voices of those who did not vote for me" and said he will "reflect them in government policies, without fail."

"Let us start a dialogue, and with a spirit of cooperation let us work together to make democracy work," he appealed to the opposition.

"We will have an era of mature democracy when human rights are inviolable and freedom with responsibility prevails so that both economic development and national security are assured," he said.

Roh decried "growing disparities" in incomes and "strife and schism among geographical regions" and pledged to work to correct them.

"The people want an honest and ethical government," Roh said, as Chun, plagued by scandals involving relatives during his seven years and nine months of junta and presidential rule, listened.

"I intend to give them one," he added. "All leaders, including myself, will be honest and truthful . . . . My administration will resolutely reject any form of privilege, irregularities and corruption."

18 Days of Protests

Roh, a former general like two of his predecessors, promised last June 29 to allow a direct presidential election and transform South Korea from an authoritarian into a democratic nation. The pledge halted 18 days of protests against Chun's plans to have Roh, his handpicked successor, rubber-stamped through an electoral college system.

However, hard-line critics turned a deaf ear to Roh's pleas for reconciliation Wednesday.

A band of five university students armed with knives and homemade bombs seized the U.S. Information Service library in downtown Seoul for about 55 minutes. They drove out employees and about 40 visitors, smashed three window panes facing a main street, threw out leaflets protesting U.S. trade pressure on South Korea and shouted "Yankee 1198465096also condemned Roh's inauguration.

One student displayed a homemade bomb and threatened to ignite it if police tried to enter the building. About 200 riot policemen, however, swarmed in from a rear entrance and seized the students.

Although the students set off two bombs, no injuries were reported. A fire in a periodicals room in the library was extinguished quickly, but it sent thick smoke through the second-floor rooms.

Previous Seizure

The building, about a half mile from the U.S. Embassy, was put under heavy guard after 73 students seized it for four days in May, 1985. U.S. officials said they do not know how the armed students got past metal detectors and guards instructed to search bags.

About 2,000 students and dissidents also gathered Wednesday night at Myongdong Roman Catholic Cathedral to protest Roh's inauguration, charging that he had won December's election through fraud.

Students from 11 universities scheduled a protest rally today. The entire national police force of 120,000 was put on alert against possible attempts to mar the inaugural.

In his speech, Roh urged Communist North Korea to accept "dialogue, not violence" to bring about reunification and said he is "prepared to go any place on earth for a sincere dialogue with anyone."

Avoiding specifics, Roh said nothing about rising trade frictions with the United States, which had a $9.9-billion deficit in bilateral trade last year, but he pledged to "further consolid1635018016he will promote better relations with Communist nations, using the staging of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul as a starting point.

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