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Chun's death draws cold reactions

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Ruling Democratic Party of Korea lawmakers who represent constituencies in Gwangju and the Jeolla provinces hold a press conference at the National Assembly, Tuesday, urging the government not to hold a state funeral for former President Chun Doo-hwan who died in the morning on the same day. Joint press corps
Ruling Democratic Party of Korea lawmakers who represent constituencies in Gwangju and the Jeolla provinces hold a press conference at the National Assembly, Tuesday, urging the government not to hold a state funeral for former President Chun Doo-hwan who died in the morning on the same day. Joint press corps

By Jun Ji-hye

The death of former President Chun Doo-hwan, Tuesday, drew mostly cold reactions from political parties, civic groups and internet commenters, given his responsibility for the horrific events of the 1980 pro-democracy protest in Gwangju.

The former Army general-turned dictator, who seized power through a 1979 military coup and ruled the country until 1988, died in his home in Seoul at the age of 90.

In 1980, he ordered the deadly crackdown on Gwangju to suppress a pro-democracy uprising, leaving hundreds dead and thousands wounded.

Liberal ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung called Chun the "main culprit" of the massacre and said he never offered an apology for his "unforgivable crimes."

"It is very regrettable that he has never admitted his crimes. A similar incident should never occur again," Lee told reporters. "I hope other people responsible for the Gwangju incident will admit their wrongdoings, so the full truth can be unearthed."

Lee added he was not planning to offer his condolences for the death of the former president.

Many other lawmakers whose constituencies are in Gwangju and the Jeolla provinces also showed similar reactions. "I am even angry over Chun's death as he died neither regretting his wrongdoings nor offering an apology. He mobilized the army to massacre civilians," said Rep. Jo O-seop who represents Gwangju's Buk District.

Rep. Sim Sang-jeung, the presidential candidate of the minor progressive Justice Party, said that Chun's dictatorial rule left deep scars on the citizens of Gwangju, asking the government not to give him a state funeral.

Police arrive at Chun Doo-hwan's home in Seoul's Seodaemun District, Tuesday, where he died in the morning. Yonhap
Police arrive at Chun Doo-hwan's home in Seoul's Seodaemun District, Tuesday, where he died in the morning. Yonhap

On the other hand, those from the conservative main opposition People Power Party (PPP) cautiously offered their condolences for the death of the former strongman, apparently being mindful of the fact that the ruling party during the Chun regime was the roots of the PPP.

Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon, floor leader of the PPP, said, "Willingly or not, Chun played a part in Korean history and has faced enormous criticism. Personally, I feel sad over his death and think that offering my condolence would be consistent with what is right."

PPP presidential candidate Yoon Seok-youl told reporters that he was willing to go to Chun's memorial altar to express his condolences, as "Regardless, Chun was a former president," but his aides said two hours later that Yoon had decided not to attend.

Earlier this month, Yoon apologized for his controversial remarks seen as praising the former authoritarian president.

Meanwhile, economic circles were relatively quiet about Chun's death over concerns that their statements could provoke unexpected controversy amid negative public sentiment toward Chun's wrongdoings.

This was compared to the Oct. 26 death of Roh Tae-woo, who was one of Chun's closest aides in the 1979 coup and Chun's presidential successor, taking power in 1988 until 1993. Major economic organizations issued their statements to offer their condolences at the time.

Like Chun, Roh did not apologize to the victims of the massacre in Gwangju while he was alive but left an apology in his will that was read to the public by his son.

For their part, civic groups related to the Gwangju pro-democracy movement expressed their anger over Chun for dying before ever making any apology, claiming that he should not be buried in a national cemetery.

"Chun's death does not mean that the crimes he committed have faded away. We will continue working to reveal his crimes," said Kim Young-hoon, who heads a civic group comprised of the family members of those killed in the 1980 massacre.
Jun Ji-hye jjh@koreatimes.co.kr


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