Students Battle Police, Leaders Appeal for Calm
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ Students enraged by a comrade’s death battled police with wooden poles and rocks Monday. Political leaders appealed for calm to save talks on democratic reform and preserve the delicate political truce.
The government freed 177 political prisoners in Seoul and eight other cities as part of pledges last week that ended 18 straight days of violent protest against the government of President Chun Doo-hwan. Hundreds of cheering and sobbing relatives and supporters greeted them at prison gates.
At Yonsei University in Seoul, hundreds of students fought riot police after fellow student Lee Han-yul died of injuries received in a street battle with officers a month ago.
″Let’s learn from Lee Han-yul’s spirit 3/8 Down with the military dictatorship 3/8″ students shouted. Police fired hundreds of tear gas grenades.
Fighting went on for hours.
At the prisons, exulting crowds chanted ″Long live democracy 3/8″ as they hoisted those freed onto their shoulders and carried them away.
Political leaders on both sides expressed regret about the 21-year-old Lee’s death, but said talks on revising the constitution to permit direct presidential elections and other reforms must continue.
Chun agreed to the reforms July 1 after nationwide protests by an opposition alliance began June 10. They developed into the worst political violence since Chun, a former general, took power with military backing following the assassination of President Park Chung-hee in 1979.
Representatives of both political camps expressed concern that anger over Lee’s death could cause a new round of protests and destroy the truce that resulted from Chun’s capitulation to his opponents’ demands.
Kim Young-sam, head of the main opposition Reunification Democratic Party, said: ″Lee’s noble death reminds all of us of the significance of the task of realizing democratization. However, the process of democratizatio n should not be impeded because of the death.″
Chun’s Democratic Justice Party also urged moderation in a statement that said: ″Our basic position is that unfortunate incidents like Lee’s death must be wisely overcome, with ill effects minimized.″
The National Coalition for a Democratic Constitution, which sponsored last month’s protest campaign, called for national mourning until Saturday and declared: ″We reconfirm that the only way to preserve the freedom and life of our people is to force out of power the dictatorial government which led to the death of Lee Han-yul.″
About 10,000 students gathered Monday at Yonsei to mourn Lee, who died Sunday. A tear gas canister fired from a rifle hit him in the back of the head during a clash with police June 9.
Protests to bring down the Chun government began the next day, coinciding with a governing party convention that endorsed the president’s hand-picked successor, party chairman and long-time Chun ally Roh Tae-woo.
Roh declared publicly June 29 that he would resign unless Chun agreed to the opposition demands, and Chun did so two days later.
On Monday, students at Yonsei stood in silent mourning before a large altar arrayed with flowers and black banners. Columns of students paraded on the campus with pictures of Lee draped with black ribbons.
Riot police in green combat uniforms and black visored helmets tried later to halt a march by students who advanced several hundred yards beyond the school gate. The youths responded to the wall of police shields with poles, fists and feet.
Police hurled tear gas grenades to force protesters back through the gate and students threw rocks in fierce clashes that went on for hours. Several students and police were badly hurt, but officials would not give numbers or details.
Students also fought police at the school Sunday. They said they would hold a funeral service in the capital Thursday before taking Lee’s body for burial to his native Kwangju in the south.
Government officials said privately that Seoul police commander Kim Soo-gil was relieved of his post after Lee’s death and would be held accountable.
The 177 people freed Monday were the first large group of political prisoners released. A few dozen were freed last week.
Justice Ministry officials said all were arrested since protests began June 10.
After his release from Seoul Prison, the Rev. Park Hyong-kyu said: ″We are fighting for democracy, for our people and the dignity of our nation.″