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(LEAD) Yoon expresses regret over controversial remarks on ex-President Chun

All News 14:58 October 21, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES with details, rival parties' responses in paras 6-16; CHANGES photo)
By Lee Haye-ah

SEOUL, Oct. 21 (Yonhap) -- Yoon Seok-youl, a leading presidential contender of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), expressed regret Thursday after coming under intense criticism for his remarks seeming to praise former authoritarian President Chun Doo-hwan.

Yoon said Tuesday that many people think Chun conducted state affairs well, except for his bloody suppression of a 1980 pro-democracy uprising in the southwestern city of Gwangju and his seizing power through a coup.

Yoon Seok-youl, a leading presidential contender of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), announces his campaign pledge for youth at the PPP headquarters in Seoul on Oct. 21, 2021. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

The comments sparked a backlash especially because he said even some people in the Honam region, which includes Gwangju, agreed.

"I certainly did not defend or praise (Chun's) government," Yoon said at an event at the PPP headquarters in Seoul. "But I humbly accept the comments and criticism from many people that my explanation and comparison were inappropriate and express regret."

Yoon reiterated that he used the comparison to underscore his resolve to take the advice of experts in various fields and delegate authority to them if he becomes president.

He also claimed he has long called for stipulating the spirit of the Gwangju uprising in the Constitution and that he plans to visit the city as soon as the PPP's presidential primary TV debates are over.

"I will continue from a humble position to uphold the people's will further and achieve a change of government in line with the people's wishes," he said.

Chun is a former Army general who seized power through a coup in 1979. His troops ruthlessly cracked down on the nine-day uprising in Gwangju in 1980, leaving more than 200 dead and 1,800 others wounded, according to conservative official data.

Chun, who served as the president from 1980 to 1988, received a death sentence in 1996 for treason and bribery but was released in December 1997 on a presidential pardon.

PPP officials voiced concern that Yoon's expression of contrition, which some said stopped short of an apology, might not be enough to soothe angry voters in Honam, a stronghold of the liberal ruling Democratic Party (DP). The PPP has traditionally been aligned with conservative voters.

PPP Chairman Lee Jun-seok, who happened to visit the Honam city of Yeosu, South Jeolla Province, on Thursday, said Chun "never governed, he only reigned."

"I ask those involved in politics as members of our party to think very carefully especially before they speak about Honam," he said to reporters.

The DP slammed Yoon.

"It makes me wonder if he is Chun Doo-hwan's spokesman," Rep. Yun Ho-jung, the DP floor leader, said during a party meeting. "I renew my determination and resolve against entrusting the country again to the descendants of dictatorships."

Yoon has come under fire before for his careless remarks and actions.

Earlier this month, the former prosecutor general displayed the Chinese character for "king" on his palm, showing what his opponents described as an utter disregard for the democratic system and a reliance on superstition.


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