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Police Beat 2nd Protester, Seoul Admits : South Korea: The admission may raise tensions stemming from earlier beating. It contrasts with the previous regime's cover-ups of brutality.

May 23, 1991|SAM JAMESON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEOUL — In the midst of political unrest triggered by police beating a student to death, President Roh Tae Woo's government admitted Wednesday that police had brutally beaten a second protester.

Another South Korean, meanwhile, set himself afire--the ninth since April 26--and leaped from a hospital roof condemning Roh's policies.

Both of the protesters were reported in critical condition.

The two incidents occurred in Kwangju, the southwestern provincial capital where resentment against the government runs deep over suppression of a 1980 uprising against a coup carried out by Roh's predecessor, with Roh's support. About 200 civilians were killed as troops quelled the uprising.

In Seoul, meanwhile, Roh was reported searching for a new prime minister to replace Ro Jai Bong, 55, who turned in his resignation in a surprise move earlier Wednesday. A minor Cabinet reshuffle will follow the successor's appointment, which was expected today or Friday, Korean media reported.

News of the prime minister's resignation was welcomed by organized opposition parties. But they agreed that the move amounted to only a "first step" in solving the turmoil that has brought to the surface complaints over inflation, soaring housing costs, corruption and economic inequities.

The prime minister's resignation had been the chief demand of the New Democratic Union, the major opposition force led by two-time presidential candidate Kim Dae Jung.

In Kwangju, Choo Kwang Il, deputy prosecutor, announced that arrest warrants had been issued for five riot policemen accused of severely beating Kwon Chang Soo, 22, a high school graduate studying at home to take South Korea's civil service examination, in the midst of a violent demonstration early Monday. Choo said two of the policemen had confessed and nine others, including the three for whom warrants were issued, were undergoing questioning.

One of the riot policemen struck Kwon over the head with a shield, and, after the youth fell, about a dozen others beat him with clubs, kicked him and left him lying unconscious on a sidewalk, Choo said.

A civilian witness said he and two other passersby took Kwon to a hospital in a taxi. Kwon, who underwent two brain operations, was reported in a coma Wednesday night.

Although the revelation was expected to raise tensions, the prosecutor's announcement marked another dramatic departure from the regime of Chun Doo Hwan, Roh's predecessor, in which police repeatedly covered up incidents of brutality that later were exposed. Officials also quickly acknowledged that police had fatally beaten a Seoul student April 26.

Choo said prosecutors had questioned 123 riot police officers in their investigation.

"Police were reacting very emotionally and impulsively to heavy injuries suffered by their colleagues," Choo said. More than 200 police were reported injured, 17 of them seriously, in clashes in Kwangju that lasted from Saturday, the anniversary of the 1980 uprising, through Monday.

Also in Kwangju on Wednesday night, Chung Sang Sung, 25, a taxi driver, climbed to the roof of a hospital, doused himself with paint thinner, set himself afire in the midst of a student rally and leaped to the ground, shouting "Down With Roh Tae Woo!" He was hospitalized with burns over more than 90% of his body.

So far, eight people have died in the nationwide unrest--six self-immolators, the student who was beaten to death and a labor union leader who died under mysterious circumstances in police custody.

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