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The BBC's Caroline Gluck
"Kwangju was the army's chosen battleground"
 real 28k

Thursday, 18 May, 2000, 05:43 GMT 06:43 UK
Tribute to Kwangju massacred
protest
A reconstruction of the protest was held in Kwangju
By Caroline Gluck in Kwangju

The South Korean President, Kim Dae-Jung, has paid an emotional tribute to those who died in the south-western city of Kwangju 20 years ago fighting for democracy.
President Kim and his wife remember Kwangju
President Kim was tortured during the uprising

In a speech made at a cemetery where the victims are buried, the president said those who lost their lives in the Kwangju uprising had shown great spirit and example.

He said they had struggled for basic freedoms not only in Korea but throughout the world.

The government-organised ceremony was attended by hundreds of people including families of those killed and human rights activists from across Asia, including Bishop Belo of East Timor.
kwangju massacre
Protesters called for an end to martial law

The government says more than 200 people died in the uprising, although the families say the figure is far higher as scores of people went missing and their fate is still unknown.

Former dissident

President Kim's speech in Kwangju was a highly personal tribute to those who lost their lives in the uprising.

The former dissident was himself arrested and tortured by the military authorities in 1980, accused of inciting the rebellion in Kwangju, capital of his home province.

Mourners remember the dead
Mourners remember the dead

President Kim said he had first learnt of the bloodshed in prison and vowed to spend the rest of his life fighting for democracy.

The demonstrators in Kwangju had been calling for an end to martial law, which had been imposed nationwide.

But the army, including elite special forces, brutally crushed the protest.

Inspiration

At the time the military-led government justified its action, calling the protesters mob rioters and North Korean communist sympathisers.
woman mourner, kwangju
A relative weeps at a grave

But on the anniversary President Kim said they were regarded across the world as democracy fighters struggling against injustice.

He said the spirit of Kwangju was an inspiration to others, showing that the struggle for freedom of expression, human rights and democracy was not in vain.

Many in Kwangju feel there are still unanswered questions which need to be addressed, such as the exact death toll and who gave the order to the killings.

President Kim did not make any reference to those issues but pledged to upgrade the cemetery as a national cemetery, effectively recognising those killed in Kwangju as national patriots.

The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, is due to start a three day visit to South Korea on Thursday. He plans to use the visit to promote further foreign investment in Australia.

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See also:

18 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Massacre remembered
17 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Flashback: The Kwangju massacre
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