By Graham Earnshaw
SEOUL, Dec 17, Reuter – Government candidate Roh Tae-woo won a big victory in South Korea’s presidential election and opposition supporters took to the streets in a number of cities on Thursday to protest against alleged vote rigging.
Defeated opposition leaders charged the government with perpetrating a huge fraud. One called on people to rise up to overthrow the military-backed government.
State radio reported that more than 2,000 demonstrators clashed with police in the southern city Kwangju, trading petrol bombs and stones for tear gas shells.
The radio said a bus was set ablaze and a police post attacked during the riot. The national news agency Yonhap said 42 demonstrators were detained for questioning.
Government candidate Roh emerged from Wednesday’s vote with well ahead of his two opposition rivals, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung. The ruling party rejected accusations of widespread and systematic cheating.
State radio said that in addition to Kwangju hundreds of opposition supporters staged street protests in three other cities in Cholla province and in the central cities Chongju and Taejon.
For the second day in a row more than 1,000 demonstrators prevented a ballot box being taken from a Seoul polling booth to the counting centre, claiming it was stuffed with faked votes.
In Kwangju, power base for opposition leader Kim Dae-jung, protesters shouted slogans against the winner, former general Roh.
“How can the murderer Roh Tae-woo become president?” one demanded.
The opposition accuses Roh of involvement in the bloody suppression of the 1980 Kwangu rebellion in which 193 people died, according to the official count. The opposition hotly disputes this figure, saying the toll was much higher.
Earlier today, Roh told a victory news conference he would work to heal the wounds still festering in Kwangju.
“I will devote all my energies to alleviating all the grievances and resentments which were bred by the tragic Kwangju turmoil peacefully and promptly,” he said.
Opposition leader Kim Young-sam, who came second in the poll, told a press conference: “I must declare this election is null and void and I urge the people to rise up and end the military regime of (President) Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo.”
His fists clenched in rage, Kim said: “This was nothing but a second coup d’etat.”
Kim Dae-jung, usually the more fiery of the two opposition standard-bearers, was much more subdued at his own news conference.
“The election was an all-out fraud,” he said.
Asked what he intended to do about it, he replied: “I have No plan to force my ideas on the people. I will listen to what they have to say.”
Kim said he and other dissident leaders had agreed to meet on Friday to discussing forming “a committee to organise struggle to nullify the vote”.
Many Seoul residents seemed weary of the disputes and angry at the two Kims for handing the government a win by their inability to unite behind one candidate.
Independent member of parliament Song Chon-yong, a former Kim Dae-jung supporter, told reporters plans by dissident groups to return to the streets with heady anti-government protests would not succeed.
“The people know the failure of our struggle to end military rule resulted decisively from the two Kims’ excessive ambitions for power,” Song said.
One man, hearing of Kim Young-sam’s appeal for action to nullify the vote, said: “What the hell does he think he’s doing? He is the loser. He should accept the result.”
The independent national daily Hankook Ilbo also blamed the opposition defeat on both Kim’s, saying their insistence on standing split the anti-government vote. Both should resign as opposition leaders, it said.
South Korean media with one voice called on the opposition to accept the results and help bring full democracy to the country, under authoritarian rule for the last four decades.
Spurning allegations of vote-rigging, another independent paper, Joong-ang Daily News, said: “So far there has been no evidence of irregularities or illegal electioneering on a level that can affect the outcome of the polls.”
REUTER GAE PDM