Seoul crackdown over mourning for Kim Il Sung

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The Independent Online
SOUTH KOREAN students used steel pipes and petrol bombs to attack police stations yesterday in protest at the arrest of colleagues who had been publicly mourning the death of North Korea's leader, Kim Il Sung.

The government in Seoul, which is paranoid about sympathy for North Korea, has been horrified at the grief shown for Kim Il Sung and vowed to crack down on demonstrations supporting the North. Oh In Hwan, the Information Minister, attacked television stations in Seoul for showing too much footage of mourning crowds of North Koreans. These television stations had 'created public suspicion and might create an atmosphere glorifying Kim's death', said the minister.

The North publicly invited South Koreans to visit the North to take part in mourning ceremonies for Kim Il Sung before this Sunday's funeral. Pyongyang said it would guarantee the safety of any South Korean mourner, but Seoul is expected to prevent anybody going North, as it has done in the past.

On Tuesday, after a rash of posters supporting Kim Il Sung began appearing on university campuses around the country, police arrested 55 students on charges of violating the strict National Security Laws. These laws, which ban any unauthorised contact with, or support for, Communist North Korea, carry heavy sentences: in some cases the death penalty can be imposed.

But despite the threat of harsh penalties, some radical student groups still look up to Kim Il Sung as a Korean patriot and nationalist who opposed the presence of Japanese and US forces on Korean soil. 'President Kim's historic evaluation should not be distorted,' read a placard on a university campus in the southern city of Pusan.

Not all the demonstrators are committed North Korea supporters. Many have jumped on the issue as a convenient vehicle of protest - students have rioted against US Patriot missiles in South Korea, the opening of the country's rice market and the breaking of a strike. Yesterday nine police stations were attacked by students.

At the same time a political storm has blown up in the parliament, where opposition members called for expressions of condolences for the death of Kim Il Sung, and for an official delegation to be sent from Seoul to Pyongyang for the funeral. The government reacted angrily to these calls, as did the local media.

'Generally speaking, it is, of course, decent not to speak ill of the dead,' said the Korea Times in an editorial. 'But we wonder why some people in the South have become so sympathetic toward the principal who triggered the Korean war, which caused millions of casualties and enormous suffering.'

(Photograph omitted)