Thursday, May 16, 2013

Flashback: The Kwangju massacre

Wednesday, 17 May, 2000, 10:42 GMT 11:42 UK
Flashback: The Kwangju massacre

Brutal crackdown was a turning point in the democracy movement
On 17 May 1980, martial law was declared by South Korean military leaders trying to quell a growing demand by the people for democratisation.
The military leadership, led by Major General Chun Doo-hwan, sent paratroopers to Korea's major cities.

The southwestern city of Kwangju was a particular centre for the pro-democracy movement, with students and their professors leading demonstrations against the new junta.


Access to the city was barred during uprising
The Kwangju Uprising is said to have begun officially at 10am on 18 May, when students demonstrating against the closed schools gathered in front of Chonnam National University and were beaten and chased off by paratroopers.

The students regrouped and began marching to the downtown area.

Paratroops again moved in and began beating and arresting demonstrators as well as innocent bystanders.

Revolt spreads

Angered by the brutality, ordinary citizens began to join the demonstrations.

Citizens' army used weapons taken off government troops
Two days later, the city's taxi drivers, headed for the city centre, their horns blaring and headlights flashing.

In the afternoon, protesters torched the studios of the Munhwa Broadcasting Company, claiming it had broadcast distorted reports of the uprising.

Bloody denouement

On 21 May, paratroopers fired into a crowd which had gathered to demand an apology for beatings and arrests administered in previous days.

As a result of the bloodshed, the demonstrators began to arm themselves, forming a defensive force called the Citizens Army.

The authorities sealed Kwangju off from the rest of the country and troops withdrew to the outskirts of the city.

The missing and the dead are honoured at an official memorial
But at dawn on the ninth day, paratroops and regular soldiers moved on protesters gathered at the Provincial Hall.

The mopping up operation took no more than an hour and a half, as the full force of the army was unleashed on the poorly protected demonstrators.

Many were killed as troops fired into the crowds. Others were beaten to death.

Pivotal time

Official figures put the death toll at 200, with another 1,000 protestors injured.

But according to other estimates between one and two thousand actually died.

It took more a decade before democratic rule returned to South Korea and even longer before those responsible for the bloody repression in Kwangju received their punishment.

But the 10 days in May 1980 were a pivotal time, and had a profound effect on the whole population as the democracy movement took hold all over South Korea.

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