Widow of South Korea’s last dictator issues apology over brutal rule

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Seoul, South Korea — The widow of South Korea’s last military dictator issued a brief apology over the “pain and scars” caused by her husband’s brutal regime, as dozens of relatives and former aides waited for their last respects at a Seoul hospital on Saturday. had gathered for Chun Doo-hwan.

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Chun, who took power in a 1979 coup and crushed pro-democracy protests a year later before being jailed for treason in the 1990s, died Tuesday at the age of 90 at his home in Seoul.

On the final day of a five-day funeral procession, Chun’s family cremated his remains at Severance Hospital in Seoul before being taken to a memorial park for the last rites. Chun’s widow, Lee Soon-ja, said during the service at the hospital that her husband wanted to be cremated and that his ashes were scattered along the border areas near North Korea.

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“As we end the funeral procession today, I want to offer my deepest apologies on behalf of my family to those who suffered pain and scars while my husband was in office,” Lee said. Said without specifying Chun’s misdeeds.

Lee Soon-jae, second from right.AP

Chun never apologized for his atrocities, which included overseeing the 1980 massacre of hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators in the southern city of Gwangju, one of the darkest moments in the country’s modern history, when he ruled his regime after a coup. Tried to strengthen ,

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Cho Jin-tae, a senior official at a foundation representing Gwangju victims, said Lee’s vague expression of remorse was hollow and that Chun’s family was accompanied by action, including supporting Chun’s efforts to discover the truth in Chun’s major wrongdoings. Called to support your words.

“I don’t think Lee Soon-ja’s comments today will bring anyone solace,” Cho told the Associated Press over the phone.

Lee Jae-myung, the South Korean governing party’s candidate for presidential election in March next year, said that Chun’s widow’s remarks “insulted the citizens of Gwangju and our people.”

He questioned whether Lee Soon-jae deliberately excluded Gwangju victims from his apology by explicitly mentioning it in Chun’s office. While Chun’s coup took place in 1979, he had formally made himself head of state by September 1980, months after the May killings in Gwangju.

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Chun was an army chief general when he seized power in December 1979 along with his military comrades, including Roh Tae-woo, who later succeeded as president in 1987 after winning the country’s first direct election in nearly two decades. Happened. Two former leaders almost died. Exactly a month apart, Roh’s death is coming on 26 October.

While Roh was given a state funeral, there was little sympathy for Chun, who was nicknamed the “Butcher of Gwangju”. Although Roh did not apologize directly for the action, his son repeatedly visited Gwangju Cemetery to pay respect to the victims and apologized on behalf of his father, who had been in bed for 10 years before his death. Were lying

Chun’s coup expanded the country’s military-backed regime after the assassination of his mentor and former army general, Park Chung-hee, who had held power since 1961. During their back-to-back dictatorships, South Koreans suffered heavy human rights abuses, although the national economy grew dramatically from the ruins of the 1950–53 Korean War.

In addition to the bloody crackdown in Gwangju, Chun’s government also imprisoned thousands of other dissidents during the 1980s, including future president and 2000 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kim Dae-jung. Kim, a prominent opposition leader at the time, was initially sentenced to death by a military tribunal for inciting the Gwangju rebellion. After the intervention of the United States, Kim’s sentence was reduced and he was eventually freed.

Desperate to gain international legitimacy, Chun’s government successfully pursued a bid to host the 1988 Olympics, a process that involved large-scale cleaning of houses and roundups of stray and homeless people by the authorities for foreign visitors. Tried to beautify the country.

Former South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan and his successor Roh Tae-woo, who were sentenced to life imprisonment for rebellion, treason and bribery, are pictured in 1996.Str Old / Reuters

Trying to develop ties with the democratic West and reduce the number of mouths to feed at home, Chun’s government facilitated international adoptions of Korean children, mostly to white families in the US and Europe. Who is now the world’s largest expatriate by adoption. More than 60,000 children were sent abroad during Chun’s presidency, most of them newborns obtained from stigmatized unmarried mothers who were often pressured to abandon their children.

Public anger over his dictatorship eventually fueled massive nationwide protests in 1987, forcing Chun to accept a constitutional amendment to introduce direct presidential elections, which was considered the beginning of South Korea’s transition to democracy. was considered as.

The governing party’s candidate, Roh, contested the December 1987 election hotly, largely due to the vote-sharing between the liberal opposition candidate Kim Dae-jung and his main rival, Kim Young-sam.

After Roh left office in 1993, Kim Young-sam became president and as part of a reform campaign, both Chun and Roh were prosecuted. The two former presidents were convicted of rebellion and treason over the coup and actions of Gwangju, as well as corruption. Chun was sentenced to death and Roh was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison.

The Supreme Court later reduced the sentence to life imprisonment for Chun and 17 years for Roh. After spending nearly two years in prison, Roh and Chun were released in late 1997 under a special pardon requested by then-president-elect Kim Dae-jung, who sought national reconciliation.



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