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S. Korea honors May 1980 pro-democracy uprising

All Headlines 10:05 May 18, 2013

GWANGJU, May 18 (Yonhap) -- South Koreans on Saturday honored the 33rd anniversary of a popular uprising in the southern city of Gwangju that acted as the watershed event in the nation's transition into a democracy.

The official event was attended by 2,500 people including President Park Geun-hye, senior government officials, political figures, related organizations and civic groups, and took place at 10 a.m.

The ceremony, held at the May 18 National Cemetery where people killed by troops under Chun Doo-hwan are buried, started off with the laying of flowers, burning of incense and speeches marking the event followed by artistic performances.

Meanwhile, some groups who said they would boycott the proceedings because the government rejected plans for participants to sing the "March for Thee" song in unison gathered at the Gate of Democracy as a sign of protest.

The song is composed in memory of the protesters and the brutal suppression they endured, and its lyrics were viewed by conservatives as being provocative. The song is sung at almost all protest organized by progressive groups and labor unions.

Those that did not attend also include members from the progressive Unified Progressive Party including its leader Lee Jung-hee.

The May democracy uprising took place when the country was under the iron grip of martial law after the assassination of President Park Chung-hee in Oct. 1979. More than 200,000 citizens in Gwangju took to the streets to protest the new military junta and demanded democracy. Chun, an army general at the time and later president, had seized control of the country through an internal coup immediately. Protesters in Gwangju initially marched peacefully, but some later armed themselves with weapons from police stations and reserve forces in face of the approaching government forces. Some 25,000 soldiers were dispatched to the city at dawn of May 27, cracking down on the protesters. Those who refused to relent were arrested or killed.

The incident left 154 people dead, 70 missing and 3,028 wounded by official count, although civic reports give a much greater number of casualties.

yonngong@yna.co.kr
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