The main South Korean opposition party, saying that its leader's political talks with President Chun Doo Hwan earlier in the day were a failure, late Wednesday threw its weight behind a major street protest scheduled for Friday.
"The top-level meeting today broke down," said Kim Tae Ryong, spokesman for the opposition Reunification Democratic Party. "We have no other choice but to stage struggle by peaceful and nonviolent means along with all democratic forces."
The party leader, Kim Young Sam, who met with Chun for three hours at the Blue House, the presidential mansion, returned to his party headquarters obviously discouraged and angry.
Doubts Chun's Grasp
"I told the president that he does not seem to know what is really going on (in South Korea)," Kim said at an afternoon press conference. In a statement issued later, he said, "We condemn the current regime's scheme to prolong its power and declare strongly (our intention) to struggle . . . for democratization."
In his talks with Chun, according to a government summary, Kim told the president: "I have had the National Coalition for a Democratic Constitution twice postpone their next rallies. But it has become difficult to postpone them any further." The coalition is sponsoring Friday's protest march.
The coalition, in which Kim's party has joined an amalgam of religious and human rights groups, organized a June 10 rally to protest the police-torture death of a Seoul university student. The rally's cancellation by the government coincided with the initial explosion of anti-government protests.
Will March on Chun Mansion
During Friday's protest--reportedly scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. (1 a.m. PDT)--demonstrators will attempt to march on the presidential mansion, which is heavily guarded by armed troops.
"I think we're in for trouble Friday," a Western diplomat said this morning. "If you have a cadre of 20,000 people already, you have the potential for many more." He referred to the estimated 20,000 students who rallied at Seoul's Yonsei University on Tuesday and vowed to take part in the march whatever the outcome of the Chun-Kim talks.
One of Kim's demands of the president was to lift the house arrest of his opposition colleague, Kim Dae Jung, and restore his civil rights. At midnight Wednesday, the police cordon around Kim Dae Jung's house was removed.
Surrounded by several hundred supporters and reporters who joined him outside the house, Kim described his 78 days of restriction, during which even his children could not visit him. He said jokingly that during the period of detention, he and his wife "had a very long and happy honeymoon."
In a more somber mood this morning, Kim predicted that Friday's demonstration will be a "turning point" for the opposition, demonstrating its power to the government. He called for a peaceful protest but said he anticipated a violent police reaction. The primary focus of the talks between Chun, a former general, and Kim Young Sam, a lifelong politician, was Chun's decision last April 13 to abandon negotiations between the ruling and opposition parties on revising the authoritarian constitution that the president imposed after he took power in a coup seven years ago.
On June 10, the ruling Democratic Justice Party nominated Roh Tae Woo, a longtime Chun ally and the president's handpicked choice, to run for the presidency in indirect elections late this year under the Chun constitution. That same day, students and other anti-government forces began a series of demonstrations against Chun's rule. Violent protests have swept the country for two weeks, resulting in thousands of injuries on both sides.
In the last few days, Chun has come under heavy pressure from members of his party--as well as U.S. officials--to rescind his April decision to postpone talks on constitutional revision until after Seoul's 1988 Summer Olympics, by which time Roh would be expected to occupy the Blue House under constitutional provisions and election laws that favor the ruling party.
Offered to Resume Talks
Government radio and the unofficial government summary of the Chun-Kim talks said that Chun, in the face of mounting protests, offered to resume the constitutional talks immediately.
"Please resume the constitutional debate," the summary quoted him as saying. "I have empowered Roh (the ruling party's chairman as well as its presidential nominee) with the responsibility and power to deal with political affairs. . . . I hope that you will meet with Chairman Roh and have open discussions with him."
Kim was quoted as responding: "You are responsible for state affairs. I think that the discussions should be held with the responsible person."
Asked later at his press conference whether he and the president had agreed to resume the talks, Kim merely shook his head and said he insisted on dealing directly with Chun.
According to the government summary, Kim told the president: "I believe all political leaders are seriously concerned about the current situation. And yet, I understand, Mr. President, you are the one who is most painstakingly working on it. . . . Some doubt that the seriousness of the situation has been accurately reported to you."
Chun Smoking More
Chun replied: "I have been receiving detailed reports from various sources. In fact, I have been smoking heavily because of the pressure of reading so many reports."
The opposition leader presented a short list of demands in his meeting with Chun:
--He asked that the April decision be rescinded and that the people be asked in a referendum to settle the constitutional question of which form of government South Korea should have. The opposition favors a presidential system, one with direct elections and shorn of the centralized powers of the Chun constitution. The ruling party has called for a parliamentary system, headed by a prime minister elected by Parliament.
Chun agreed to a resumption of the talks--in fact urged it upon Kim. He called for negotiations within the National Assembly, where the earlier round of talks never got beyond an initial organizational meeting before breaking down because of intransigence on both sides. The president defended the present constitution, noting its limit of a one-term presidency and saying past changes in Seoul have often been "heavy handed (and have) . . . caused a vicious political cycle."
He added, interestingly: "I have been telling my colleagues in the Democratic Justice Party to work with a preparedness to become the opposition." He did not directly respond to Kim's call for a referendum but called for a consensus decision in the National Assembly, where his party holds a nearly two-thirds majority.
--Kim asked for the release of all demonstrators arrested since the anti-government protests began June 10 except those involving cases of extreme violence. Chun replied: "I will consider that positively."
--Kim also asked that the civil rights of Kim Dae Jung be restored. Convicted of sedition for an alleged role in organizing the Kwangju uprising of 1980, Kim is barred from participating in politics. Although he lifted Kim's house-arrest order (this one, in effect since April 8, was the latest of many), the president said he could not arbitrarily restore the opposition leader's civil rights. "The attitude of the person concerned and general circumstances must be considered," he said.
Was Candidate in 1971
Kim Dae Jung was the last opposition candidate to vie for the presidency in a free election against one of the country's long string of military-dominated governments. He lost to the late President Park Chung Hee in 1971.
Chun also met Wednesday with the leaders of two minor opposition parties, ostensibly to seek a consensus on ways to resolve the political crisis.
The Western diplomat suggested three possible causes for the opposition's refusal to resume constitutional talks at the National Assembly level:
--A traditional caution of the opposition when dealing with government here. "Kim might have feared he would be seen as a patsy," the diplomat said.
--The opposition's most visible and vocal constituency is the student movement, which had already committed itself to take to the streets on Friday, and Kim was "pulled along by his constituents."
--In analyzing what he had achieved in the talks, Kim may have decided it wasn't enough. "Perhaps Kim thinks he did not get concessions, that what he got were only promises," the diplomat surmised. He did point out, however, that the Chun-Kim meeting, according to the government scenario, was only a consultation and that Chun has yet to deliver a promised package of proposed reforms.
Gaston J. Sigur, assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, who is here as President Reagan's trouble-shooter on a three-day mission, held a series of talks with principal figures in the crisis, including Chun, Roh and Kim Dae Jung--the last of whom Sigur met Wednesday night, before Kim's house arrest was lifted. Kim told reporters later that the meeting was "very productive" and declared that "American policy is headed in the right direction" in South Korea.
U.S. Pressuring Chun
The U.S. government has been publicly pressuring Chun on reforms in recent weeks. In Washington on Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley insisted that the United States had "long called for negotiations in a spirit of compromise," and she warned against any intervention by the South Korean military in the turmoil.
But confrontation, not compromise, is the style of politics in South Korea. The Kim-Chun meeting, their first, came off only after a series of grudgingly accepted demands by both sides.
Kim, for instance, refused to meet Chun in the company of the two minor opposition party leaders, reportedly the government plan for a while. (The presidential press secretary, serving as a stenographer, was the only other person present during the talks, according to press reports.)