Protests mark Kwangju massacre


By Eva Cheng More than 10,000 students staged mass rallies and boycotted classes in 12 cities in South Korea in late September. The protests were organised in response to the Kim Young Sam government's decision not to indict former presidents Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo for suppressing a major anti-dictatorship uprising in 1980 in Kwangju in which 3000 people were massacred. Riot police took to the unarmed students with tear gas and batons. The biggest clash, on September 29 in Seoul, took place when more than 3000 students blocked traffic in the up-market Myongdong shopping district after 700 protesters in Sogang University were attacked earlier in the day by riot police. The Myongdong protesters were tackled by thousands of police with multiple tear gas launching vans which they later put to use. Up to 3000 students mobilised in street protests in Pusan, Taegu, Kwangju, Songnam and Suwon. Some arrests were made. On October 4, 400 students marched to the truce village of Panmunjom on the border of North Korea as part of the anti-government protests. Though once part of the liberal opposition, Kim, elected to the presidency in 1993, has maintained many of the former dictatorships' pro-big business and anti-democratic policies such as the National Security Law which bans South Koreans from having any contact with North Korea. Violation is punishable by death. The nine-day Kwangju uprising in 1980 marked an important turning point in South Korea's struggle against the dictatorship: a new generation was radicalised against the role of the US government without whose approval the Kwangju massacre would not have been possible. Since 1945 South Korea has been the site of one of the US's most important military bases in Asia. Today, 37,000 US troops are stationed there.

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