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Widow of Korean dictator apologizes for brutal regime

SEOUL, South Korea – Widow of South Korea’s last military dictator briefly apologizes for “pains and scars” caused by her husband’s brutal regime as dozens of relatives and former helpers reunite Saturday in a Seoul hospital to pay them a final tribute to Chun Doo-hwan.

On the last day of a five-day funeral procession, Chun’s family held a funeral service at Severance Hospital in Seoul before taking his remains to a memorial park for cremation. Chun’s widow Lee Soon-ja told the hospital service that her husband wished to be cremated and his ashes scattered in border areas near North Korea.

“As we wrap up the funeral procession today, I would like to offer a heartfelt apology on behalf of our family to those who suffered pain and scarring during my husband’s tenure,” Lee said, without specifying the mischief. from Chun.

Chun never apologized for his atrocities, including overseeing a massacre of hundreds of pro-democracy protesters in the southern city of Gwangju in 1980, one of the darkest moments in the country’s modern history then. that he was trying to consolidate his reign after the coup. .

Cho Jin-tae, a senior official at a foundation representing Gwangju victims, said Lee’s vague expression of remorse rang hollow and called on Chun’s family to back up his words with actions, including cooperating with the efforts. search for the truth about Chun’s major wrongdoing.

“I don’t think anyone will be comforted by Lee Soon-ja’s comments today,” Cho told The Associated Press by phone.

Chun was a major general in the army when he took power in December 1979 with his military friends, including Roh Tae-woo, who then succeeded Chun as president after winning the country’s first democratic elections since. decades. The two died almost a month apart, with Roh’s death occurring on October 26.

While Roh had a state funeral, there was much less sympathy for Chun, who had been dubbed the “Butcher of Gwangju”. Although Roh has never apologized directly for the crackdown, his son has visited a cemetery in Gwangju on several occasions to pay tribute to the victims and apologized on behalf of his father, who was bedridden over the course. of the 10 years preceding his death.

Chun’s coup extended the country’s military rule following the assassination of his mentor and former army general, Park Chung-Hee, who had held power since 1961. During their consecutive dictatorships , South Koreans suffered enormous human rights violations although the national economy developed considerably from the ruins of the Korean War of 1950-53.

Besides the bloody crackdown in Gwangju, Chun’s government also jailed tens of thousands of other dissidents during the 1980s, including future president and 2000 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kim Dae-jung. Kim, then a prominent opposition leader, was first sentenced to death by a military court for instigating the Gwangju uprising. After the intervention of the United States, Kim’s sentence was reduced and he was finally released.

Desperate to gain international legitimacy, Chun’s government managed to push for a bid to host the 1988 Olympics, a process that was accompanied by massive house cleanings and roundups of vagrants and homeless people as the authorities were trying to beautify the country for foreign visitors.

Trying to develop relations with the democratic West and reduce the number of mouths to feed at home, Chun’s government has also facilitated international adoptions of Korean children, mostly to white families in America and Europe, creating what is now the largest adopted diaspora in the world. Over 60,000 children were sent overseas during Chun’s presidency, most of them newborns obtained from stigmatized single mothers who were often pressured to give up their babies.

Public anger at his dictatorship ultimately fueled massive nationwide protests in 1987, forcing Chun to agree to a constitutional revision to introduce direct presidential elections, seen as the start of South Korea’s transition to democracy. .

Roh, the ruling party’s candidate, won a hotly contested election in December 1987, largely due to a split in the votes between opposition liberal candidates Kim Dae-jung and his main rival, Kim Young- sat.

After Roh stepped down in 1993, Kim Young-sam became president and put Chun and Roh on trial as part of a campaign for reform. The two ex-presidents were found guilty of mutiny and treason following the coup and crackdown in Gwangju, as well as corruption. Chun was sentenced to death and Roh to 22 and a half years in prison.

The Supreme Court later reduced those sentences to life imprisonment for Chun and 17 years for Roh. After spending approximately 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.


ABC News

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