Former coup president and South Korean dictator Chun Doo-hwan dies

The dictator Chun Doo-Hwan, upon his release from prison after serving a two-year sentence in 1997. (KIM JAE-HWAN-AFP)

Former coup president and dictator Chun Doo-hwan died at his home in the Seodaemun district of Seoul early on Tuesday from complications related to the myeloma that he had recently been diagnosed with, according to representatives from his office.

Born in 1931 in Hapcheon County, in the southeastern part of the country, Chun entered the Korean Military Academy (KMA) at age 20 and served as a military man in the inter-Korean War, when he quickly rose through the ranks under the command of his protector, General Park Chung-hee, who took power after the 1961 military coup.

At the KMA, he met figures such as Roh Tae-woo or Jeong Ho-yong, with whom he founded the Hanahoe association, which brought together mainly the military from the southeast of the country and would end up playing a key role in the future of the nation.
With Chun at the helm, Hanahoe’s group carried out another coup shortly after the assassination of President Park Chung-hee in 1979 that would end up placing him as head of state until 1988.

The “Butcher of Gwangju”

The following year Chun ordered the brutal repression of a popular rebellion of thousands of young people in the city of Gwangju (260 kilometers south of Seoul) which, according to official figures, left some 200 dead – other sources triple the number of fatalities – and some 1,800 wounded. He accused them of being agents under the command of North Korea but Gwangju would become a symbol in the fight for democracy in South Korea,

Chun led the country with an iron fist in the 1980s, and his tenure was marked by the widespread use of torture against opponents and the repression of freedom of expression.

During a visit to Myanmar in 1983, North Korean agents tried to kill him by exploding a bomb during a ceremony honoring Aung San, a hero of Burmese independence killed by the military and father of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and currently imprisoned. after the military coup in Myanmar.

Chun Doo-hwan’s foreign minister and chief economic adviser were killed in the explosion, but the latter escaped: according to the official version delayed by circulation, he was not present at the event.

Protests and condemnation

After appointing Roh as his successor, pro-democracy protests spread across the country in the spring of 1987, and Chun’s military junta eventually agreed to hold presidential elections six months later.

Both he and Roh, who would end up prevailing in those presidential elections and would govern until 1993, when opposition leader Kim Young-sam won the elections, were convicted in August 1996 of corruption and their role in the 1979 coup and the crackdown in Gwangju in 1980.

Chun was sentenced to life in prison but received a presidential pardon in 1997.

The dictator never showed regret for the coup – “I did what I did to save the country from imminent danger” – or for his role in the repression of Gwangju, and even ended up receiving a two-year suspended sentence in 2020 in prison for defaming one of the witnesses to the massacre.

Chun appealed the sentence and appeared for the last time before the court in the appeal process in August of this year, showing difficulties in breathing and in understanding what was said to him.

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Former coup president and South Korean dictator Chun Doo-hwan dies