Koreans clamour for justice in the trial of two presidents - World - News - The Independent

Koreans clamour for justice in the trial of two presidents

RICHARD LLOYD PARRY

Seoul

Seoul is freezing this week, and the touts had been queuing for three nights. They knew what the tickets were worth, and they weren't prepared to bargain: 1m won (about pounds 900).

For this sum, a little less than the average worker's monthly wage, you could buy a small square of blue paper, and a few hours in chamber 417 of the Seoul District Court. But more than one hundred people had camped out with the touts, and every other seat was taken. South Koreans have been waiting 16 years for the Kwangju trial and, every Monday for the rest of the month, it is going to be the greatest show in town.

Yesterday, at half past nine, to an angry roar from a few hundred demonstrators, three large buses arrived. Inside the gates, beyond the range of the egg- throwers, 16 elderly men stepped out, accompanied by dozens of lawyers and guards.

The prison track suits were anonymous but the faces were instantly recognisable. First into court were prisoner number 3124 and prisoner number 1042, better known as Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo, formerly the most powerful, the most feared, and now the most hated men in South Korea.

The two former presidents have appeared in court before, but never under such compelling circumstances: side by side in the same dock, and on the gravest of criminal charges - mutiny and treason. Everyone expects them to be convicted, although it is unlikely a capital sentence will be applied.

The pace of recent events has been amazing. Five months ago, Chun and Roh were unpopular, but seemingly unassailable, one more unpleasant aspect of the country's turbulent past.

Chun, a former general who seized power in 1979, was notorious for having ordered the bloody suppression of a civilian uprising in the south-western city of Kwangju five months later.

His successor, Roh, was also implicated in the massacre. But Roh had the distinction of introducing democracy to South Korea, having defeated a divided opposition in the first presidential elections in 1988. Five years later, he gave way to the present President, Kim Young Sam, a hero of the democracy movement who had joined forces with the party of the two generals.

Mr Kim's collusion with the perpetrators of Kwangju appeared to be their greatest insurance policy. Despite repeated calls for their indictment, he repeated his belief that they must be left "to the judgement of history". Then, in October last year, state prosecutors announced an investigation into claims that Roh had amassed a staggering political slush fund - $355bn (pounds 232bn) worth of bribes in exchange for government contracts awarded during his presidency. The prosecutors arrested Roh and, within a few weeks, Chun. Both were charged with bribery, and then the 1979 coup and the Kwangju massacre.

The President speaks of "righting the wrongs of history"; the chief prosecutors yesterday expressed the hope that "this historic trial will help prevent such unfortunate incidents from being repeated", and few Koreans would dissent from these noble aims.

Incidentally, President Kim is doing himself a power of political good. This week sees the beginning of an election campaign in which his New Korea Party had been expected to lose its parliamentary majority. Having snatched the opposition's main complaint against him out of their hands, Kim is looking, if not safe, then stronger. He has also placed a decisive distance between himself and the slush funds which, according to his opponents, had directly benefited the President himself. Cursed by natural and man- made disasters, overshadowed by the constant threat from the Stalinist regime in the North, South Korea is never a predictable place and Mr Kim's crusade has caused quiet consternation among the conservative establishment, particularly in the military. But it has also tapped a vein of powerful emotion among ordinary Koreans, which may yet be difficult to control.

"We've waited for 16 years, and our suffering has never stopped," said the mother of a student killed at Kwangju. "We've come here to rip them to pieces. We've come to take Chun, and if each of us takes just a piece of his body, not even a bone will be left over."

Suggested Topics
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week