You are here: Home » International » News » Politics
Business Standard

Former South Korean military dictator Chun Doo-hwan dies at 90

Chun had multiple myeloma, a blood cancer which was in remission, and his health had deteriorated recently, his former press secretary Min Chung-ki told reporters

Topics
South Korea | coup | military

Hyonhee Shin | Reuters 

Chun Doo-hwan
Former South Korean military strongman Chun, who crushed pro-democracy demonstrations in 1980, has died on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. He was 90. (AP Photo/Yun Jai-hyoung, File)

Former South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan, whose iron-fisted rule of the country following a 1979 sparked massive democracy protests, died on Tuesday at the age of 90, his former press aide said.

Chun had multiple myeloma, a blood cancer which was in remission, and his health had deteriorated recently, his former press secretary Min Chung-ki told reporters. He passed away at his Seoul home early in the morning and his body will be moved to a hospital for a funeral later in the day.

A former commander, Chun presided over the 1980 Gwangju army massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators, a crime for which he was later convicted and received a commuted death sentence.

His death came about a month after another former president and his comrade Roh Tae-woo, who played a crucial but controversial role in the country's troubled transition to democracy, died at age 88.

An aloof, ramrod-straight Chun during his mid-1990s trial defended the as necessary to save the nation from a political crisis and denied sending troops into Gwangju.

"I am sure that I would take the same action, if the same situation arose," Chun told the court.

Chun was born on March 6, 1931, in Yulgok-myeon, a poor farming town in the southeastern county of Hapcheon, during Japanese rule over Korea.

He joined the straight out of high school, working his way up the ranks until he was appointed a commander in 1979.

Taking charge of the investigation into the assassination of President Park Chung-hee that year, Chun courted key military allies and gained control of South Korea's intelligence agencies to headline a Dec. 12 coup.

"In front of the most powerful organisations under the Park Chung-hee presidency, it surprised me how easily (Chun) gained control over them and how skilfully he took advantage of the circumstances. In an instant he seemed to have grown into a giant," Park Jun-kwang, Chun's subordinate during the coup later told journalist Cho Gab-je.

Chun's eight-year rule in the presidential Blue House was characterised by brutality and political repression. It was, however, also marked by growing economic prosperity.

Chun resigned from office amid a nationwide student-led democratic movement in 1987 demanding a direct electoral system.

In 1995, he was charged with mutiny, treason and was arrested after refusing to appear at the prosecutors' office and fleeing to his hometown.

At what local media dubbed the "trial of the century", he and coup co-conspirator and succeeding President Roh Tae-Woo were found guilty of mutiny, treason and bribery. In their verdict, judges said Chun's rise to power came "through illegal means which inflicted enormous damage on the people".

Thousands of students were believed to have been killed at Gwangju, according to testimonies by survivors, former military officers and investigators.

Roh was given a lengthy jail term while Chun was sentenced to death. However, that was commuted by the Seoul High Court in recognition of Chun's role in the fast-paced economic development of the Asian "Tiger" economy and the peaceful transfer of the presidency to Roh in 1988.

Both men were pardoned and freed from jail in 1997 by President Kim Young-sam, in what he called an effort to promote "national unity."

Chun made several returns to the spotlight. He caused a national furore in 2003 when he claimed total assets of 291,000 won ($245) of cash, two dogs and some home appliances - while owing some 220.5 billion won in fines. His four children and other relatives were later found to own large swaths of land in Seoul and luxurious villas in the United States.

Chun's family in 2013 vowed to pay off the bulk of his debt, but his unpaid fines still totalled some 100 billion won as of December 2020.

In 2020, Chun was found guilty and received an eight-month suspended sentence for defaming a late democracy activist and Catholic priest in his 2017 memoirs. Prosecutors have appealed, and Chun had faced a trial next week.

Dear Reader,


Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.
We, however, have a request.

As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.

Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.

Digital Editor

First Published: Tue, November 23 2021. 08:56 IST
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU
.