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(News Focus) Disgraced late Chun: Coup leader known for bloody crackdown on democracy uprising

Politics 12:19 November 23, 2021

By Kim Deok-hyun

SEOUL, Nov. 23 (Yonhap) -- Disgraced former President Chun Doo-hwan, an ex-Army general who seized power in a military coup in 1979, left a deep scar in South Korea's modern history that has still not healed: the bloody crackdown on a pro-democracy civil uprising.

Chun, who died Tuesday at the age of 90, never issued an apology or showed remorse for those killed in the 1980 uprising in the southwestern city of Gwangju. He drew a firestorm of criticism from the victims' families by calling the uprising a "riot."

Chun's junta sent tank-led troops, helicopters and paratroopers to ruthlessly crack down on the uprising in Gwangju, leaving more than 200 dead and 1,800 others wounded, according to conservative official data.

In the revolt, tens of thousands of Gwangju citizens rose up against the military junta led by Chun, as he seized power in the coup, following the assassination of his mentor, late President Park Chung-hee, eight months earlier.

Ex-president Chun Doo-hwan dies

In his 2017 memoir, Chun drew public criticism by claiming North Korean troops were involved in the uprising and he was not involved in the crackdown. At that time, a court issued an injunction banning the distribution of the memoir.

Born to a poor farming family in 1931, Chun entered the Korea Military Academy in 1951. While there, Chun made key friends who helped him lead the coup, including late Former President Roh Tae-woo, who died at 88 last month.

In 1961, then-captain Chun led a rally of the military academy's cadets in a show of support for Park's military coup.

Chun served in key military posts and began his role in 1976 as the deputy head of the Presidential Security Service and joined the inner circle of late Park. In 1979, Chun was appointed commander of then-Security Command, the military's most powerful security organ.

After Park was assassinated by his spy chief in October 1979, Chun had strengthened his influence on the military's key commands and intelligence organizations.

On Dec. 12, 1979, Chun led a military coup, imposed martial law and became the de facto leader.

After he assumed the presidency in 1980, his eight-year rule was marked by brutal crackdowns on pro-democracy movements. Hundreds of citizens were ordered to serve at so-called "education camps" for social cleansing. In contrast to politics, the nation's economy showed a robust growth at that time.

In 1983, Chun survived an assassination attempt by a North Korean agency during a visit to Rangoon, Burma, but while the North Korean bomb attack killed 17 South Koreans, most of them were Chun's Cabinet ministers.

Chun named late Roh as the presidential candidate of the ruling party in 1987 amid large-scale pro-democracy demonstrations in Seoul and other major cities.

As Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam, then prominent opposition leaders, failed to field a united candidate, the 1987 presidential election became a three-way race among Roh and the two Kims. Roh won the election by a narrow margin.

Ex-president Chun Doo-hwan dies

In 1996, Chun was convicted of mutiny and sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He was also ordered to repay 220 billion won (US$1.88 billion) that he had pocketed during his presidency.

A year later, he was pardoned, but the order to repay the money remained in force.

Chun failed to fully pay the money and once drew criticism by saying his remaining wealth was a mere 290,000 won.

In recent years, Chun had attended court hearings on a defamation case in Gwangju, and he had failed to show up twice due to a fragile health.

In August this year, Chun was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that affects plasma cells.


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