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SOUTH KOREA: Protests Against Park

4 minute read

No flower can remain in full bloom for more than ten days. No man alive can last longer than ten years in power. —Korean proverb

Ever since he rode to power in 1961 as head of a military junta, South Korea’s President Park Chung Hee has done his best to disprove that adage —primarily by trying to suppress all political opposition. The press has been gagged, the National Assembly turned into a rubber-stamp parliament, and political rallies have been banned (except those approved by the government). Despite these and other unpopular measures—including the enlarging of South Korea’s feared secret police, which is called the CIA — opposition persists.

The epicenter of protest is at the campus of Seoul National University, whose rebellious students helped topple the regime of former Strongman Syngman Rhee in 1960. What galvanized the students this time was the diplomatic furor created by the kidnaping, purportedly by CIA agents, of exiled former Opposition Leader Kim Dae Jung from a hotel in Tokyo. At a rally last month, 400 students demanded an end to the terrorist rule of the CIA, the “whole truth” about the Kim abduction and restoration of press freedom.

Since then, all of the university’s 13 colleges have been virtually closed down by boycotting students. Last week the main campus of the university was deserted, and the boycott had spread to other leading schools. At two women’s universities, Ewha and Sukmyung, students wearing black ribbons to symbolize the death of democracy voted for a classroom boycott to last until all arrested students were freed and campus surveillance stopped. A thousand students of Yonsei University also walked out, shouting “Don’t trample on the conscience of the nation.”

Of more than 239 students arrested, at week’s end 13 were still in jail. Two of the students were sentenced to prison terms last week, one for 18 months and the other for one year. Authorities also closed privately operated Korea University for one week after 2,000 students clashed with riot police.

The demonstrations came at an awkward moment for Park since they took place just when the U.N. General Assembly was embroiled in a debate on the Korean question. For North Korea’s backers among the Communist and Third World countries, the demonstrations were further evidence that Park’s government lacked legitimacy. The Soviet-Chinese-backed resolution called for eventual reunification of the two Koreas with a single U.N. membership. A Western counter-resolution calling for dual U.N. membership for both Korean states was fiercely opposed by the North Koreans, who see it as a design to perpetuate the division of the country. But since neither resolution stood a clear chance of adoption, the issue was postponed last week. Instead, the U.N. agreed to await the resumption of North-South talks on steps toward reunification.

The talks were suspended last summer because of Pyongyang’s objections to the principal South Korean delegate, CIA Chief Lee Hu Rak. There is now speculation among foreign and South Korean officials that Park will appoint a new chief delegate, thereby starting a process of downgrading a hated lieutenant who has clearly become an international and domestic liability.

Blocked Avenues. Meanwhile, Kim Dae Jung—the cause of the uproar —is preparing to take a research fellowship at Harvard. “I am as much concerned with politics as ever, and my views have not changed,” he told TIME’S Tokyo Bureau Chief Herman Nickel. “But under the present circumstances it has become impossible for me to carry out political activities here. If I wanted to organize a political party, people would not be free to join. If I wanted to make a speech, I would not be able to get a place where I could give it. So all avenues are blocked. Until things become free again, I will concentrate on studying in the United States.” Government officials have intimated that since Kim is no longer under house arrest, he is free to leave the country. But he is still waiting impatiently for the Korean authorities to issue the promised passports to him, his wife and youngest son.

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