March 11, 1996 in Nation/World

Ex-Presidents’ Trial Begins In S. Korea

Associated Press

In an unprecedented joint trial, two former presidents who began as childhood friends and ruled South Korea in successive terms from 1980 to 1993, went on trial today in connection with their bloody seizure of power.

Dressed in standard-issue prison garb, former Presidents Chun Doohwan and Roh Tae-woo arrived at the Seoul Criminal Court about five minutes apart. At least six people were arrested as they tried to throw rocks and eggs at the prisoners’ buses.

One protester displayed a placard that read “Death to the Murderers.”

The ex-generals are accused of masterminding the 1979 coup and a bloody military crackdown that killed 240 pro-democracy protesters in the southern city of Kwangju in May 1980.

As the trial got under way, the prosecution and defense offered conflicting interpretations of the charges.

“The unfortunate incidents have turned the tide of South Korea’s modern history,” senior prosecutor Kim Sang-hee said. “Through the trial, all truth must be brought to light to show to our descendants that law and justice are alive in this country.”

But Chief defense lawyer Chun Sang-suk portrayed the allegations as politically motivated and without legal foundation.

As the lawyers spoke, the two ex-presidents, childhood friends and later military buddies, sat impassively side-by-side.

Earlier Monday, about 1,300 riot police lined the motorcade route from the prison to the courthouse to prevent clashes between supporters and opponents of the two ex-presidents.

News reports said that hundreds of villagers from the former presidents’ hometowns planned demonstrations against what they believed was political persecution of Chun and Roh. Civic groups also prepared protests to demand stern punishment for the pair.

Their trial on mutiny and treason charges is part of President Kim Young-sam’s attempt to come to terms with South Korea’s recent history of corruption, coups and harsh authoritarian rule.

If convicted, they face the death penalty, although execution is unlikely. Each is also on trial for bribery in connection with allegedly accepting millions of dollars from businessmen. They face at least 10 years on those charges.

© Copyright 1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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