Korean leader who crushed uprising dies aged 88

World | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 27 Oct 2021

Former South Korean president and general Roh Tae Woo, who was instrumental in crushing the Gwangju Uprising at a cost of hundreds of lives, died of natural causes yesterday aged 88.

Roh withdrew from public view 20 years ago following a diagnosis of prostate cancer, and was being treated at the Seoul National University Hospital, Yonhap news agency reported.

He was elected to serve as president from 1988-93, succeeding his old friend and dictator Chun Doo Hwan, who took power in a military coup with Roh in 1979.

Roh's victory in the 1987 polls crushed the hopes of many democracy activists and liberals.

In office, Roh presided over the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics and forged diplomatic ties with the Communist bloc, long aligned with Pyongyang.

He was succeeded by former democracy activist Kim Young Sam, who was determined to bring him and Chun to justice.

The two former presidents were convicted of treason in 1996.

Roh was initially sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison while Chun was condemned to death. But both were given presidential pardons and released the following year.

Roh never expressed remorse for the hundreds killed in Gwangju, once dismissing the toll as nothing compared to China's Cultural Revolution.

About 200 were left dead or missing, according to official figures, but activists say the toll may have been three times as many.

But he is not as reviled as Chun - partly as he was freely elected, but also for the economic growth he oversaw and his diplomatic outreach to the former Communist bloc that saw Seoul establish relations with both Moscow and Beijing.

Born in Daegu in 1932, during the Japanese colonial period, Roh rose through the military ranks and was a battalion commander in Vietnam, where South Korea was Saigon's second-largest foreign troop provider after the US.

Search Archive

Advanced Search
November 2021

Today's Standard