Tens of thousands of Korean office workers and shoppers staggered through Seoul on Friday, crying and coughing as riot police bathed the downtown area with tear gas to quell street protesters whose numbers fell below expectations.
Simultaneous anti-government demonstrations in at least 32 other cities across South Korea were reported as more serious than those in the capital. Protesters numbered in the tens of thousands nationwide.
In the big southern port of Pusan, demonstrators commandeered eight buses and firebombed a police post. In Kwangju, site of a 1980 popular insurrection, where anti-government sentiment runs high, police were reported to have lost control of parts of the city temporarily as violent protests continued after midnight.
More than 25,000 officers in the capital fired volley after volley of pepper gas, a virulent form of tear gas, at bands of violent protesters. But they also fired indiscriminately at small, peaceful groups and at ordinary pedestrians on streets where no demonstrations were occurring.
Virtually no street within a three-square-mile area of the city center was unaffected.
Horns Blare in Protest
A blare of auto horns, which the demonstration's organizers had requested as a display of protest, continued for more than two hours, the longest yet.
Kim Young Sam, president of the opposition Reunification Democratic Party who two days ago was invited to the presidential residence, was forced into a paddy wagon, driven around town, and finally released at his home. He reported that he suffered a cut on a finger and abrasions on the left hand.
"Because of one dictator, the entire nation has to suffer like this," Kim said after returning to a downtown office.
Although most of the demonstrators were peaceful, a number of violent clashes occurred near the Hilton Hotel and the Seoul Central Railway Station, where the Korean Broadcasting System reported two groups totaling 5,000 protesters filled the streets. Two police vehicles were set on fire, and 10 riot policemen were reported pushed off an eight-foot wall into a parking lot at the Hilton Hotel by protesting students.
Rush Into Lobby
Some protesters rushed into the Hilton lobby to escape police, while several hundred others again took refuge in the Roman Catholic Myongdong Cathedral, where a sit-in by students inspired many of the demonstrations that occurred in the first six days of protest.
Throughout this capital of 10 million people, about 15,000 demonstrators turned out--far fewer than the estimated 100,000 who filled the streets June 18.
Police had feared that tens of thousands of protesters would disrupt Seoul again--an eventuality that Western diplomats had feared might provoke President Chun Doo Hwan into calling in army troops to quell the ongoing unrest that began June 10.
Earlier Friday, Chun, in a meeting with Buddhist priests at his office, had reiterated his determination "to solve the problem not with force but with patience and dialogue."
Western diplomats, who asked not to be identified, said the fact that "no wild free-for-all" occurred in Seoul had reduced the danger that Chun might call in troops. A fall-off in the number of protesters in Seoul, they added, indicated that summer vacation for college students may reduce the intensity of protests.
"But we'll continue to see more disturbances over the summer than we've ever had before," one diplomat said.
Friday's protest, called by the National Coalition for a Democratic Constitution to demand democratic reforms, was branded illegal by authorities, who mobilized 60,000 of the country's 120,000 policemen to suppress the nationwide demonstrations. Thursday night, police placed 1,817 people in preventive detention, and Friday they put 234 dissidents, including Kim Dae Jung, under house arrest for the day.
Kim, the opposition's candidate in South Korea's last free and open presidential election in 1971, had only a day earlier been released from house arrest that began April 10.
Kim Held Briefly
Kim's political ally, Kim Young Sam, was picked up off the street as he attempted to lead a march on City Hall shortly after emerging from the office of the Council for the Promotion of Democracy, an organization he co-chairs with Kim Dae Jung.
About 1,000 people had gathered in the street outside, and police threw pepper-gas grenades to disperse them. The crowd shouted slogans and sang, "Our Hope Is for Reunification" of the divided Korean nation. "Our Hope Is for Democracy," they added in chants.
"Democratic policemen, join our forces! Violent policemen, go away!" they yelled at lines of riot police blocking the street.
Only a handful of supporters managed to endure the pepper gas to hear Kim Young Sam, in a speech delivered from a window of the council's office, urge marchers to remain peaceful.
"Whoever resorts to violence is not our friend. He is our enemy," Kim declared. He, too, urged "democratic policemen" to drop their tear-gas launchers and grenades and "join us." None did.
Kim left the building, forcing his way through a wall of "grabbers"--combat police trained in martial arts and attired in khaki trousers and tennis shoes, whose job is to backstop riot police by seizing and detaining fleeing demonstrators. In rancid air filled with the odor of tear gas, he flashed a V sign for photographers wearing gas masks.
Spread Large Flag
About 100 of Kim's supporters unwrapped a large South Korean flag and spread it across half the street, holding it by its edges. But as Kim took the lead position to start the march, a band of grabbers encircled the group.
Hundreds of green-garbed riot police spread tear-gas powder on the street, sending party officials and members of the National Assembly staggering away, coughing, choking, and half-blinded as Kim was seized by the grabbers and pushed into the police van.
Kim had said that his talks two days earlier with Chun produced no move toward democracy, and he and his Reunification Democratic Party threw their weight behind Friday's "grand march," as it was called by the sponsoring National Coalition for a Democratic Constitution. The latter is a coalition of opposition politicians, clergy, and dissident groups.
Late Friday night, Kim was allowed to return to the office of the Council for the Promotion of Democracy, where he began a sit-in protest with 80 supporters.
Although Chun had told Kim that he was willing to lift a presidential ban on talks about constitutional reform, Chun refused to go along with Kim's demand that the public be allowed to decide by referendum what kind of government they want.
Debate has been stalemated for more than a year over the issue of whether this country should have a parliamentary form of government or a presidential administration with direct popular election of the president. In April, Chun ordered the debate halted until after the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.
The present constitution, imposed by Chun during a period of martial law in 1980, provides for a president with authoritarian powers to be elected indirectly, by an electoral college.
In another Friday development, Catholic priests in Pusan sent back to Home Minister Koh Kun "without even opening it" a letter apologizing for a police attack on a church bus carrying two priests and 14 protesters who had been guaranteed free passage Monday. Also in Pusan, an autopsy on the body of a protester who died Wednesday of a skull fracture showed no evidence that he was struck by a tear-gas canister, as his family and fellow demonstrators had charged.
Encounter Outside Hotel
Typical of the demonstrations that erupted in four sectors of Seoul on Friday, about 300 student protesters played cat-and-mouse with the police outside the Chosun Hotel.
Chanting anti-government slogans, they flowed into the street, cutting traffic to a single lane as they pumped their fists in the air. Riot police rounded the corner and threw tear-gas grenades at the students, who scurried down side streets and into alleys.
When the police pulled back, the students resumed their chants and returned to the street. The game was repeated more than five times within an hour. Then a squad of grabbers entered the scene, throwing gas grenades and chasing students through the hotel garden and parking lot. Those they caught were roughed up--punched and kicked--then hauled away to waiting police buses.
For the second time in two days, 6,000 protesters staged demonstrations in the Yongdongpo section of Seoul, south of the Han River. The area is filled with small factories that pay low wages to workers.
Several citizens approached reporters, recognizable by their armbands, to tell of being attacked by policemen.
'Policemen Beat Me'
"Five policemen beat me," one man in his early 40s said.
"They kicked me and punched me in the head. Look here," he said, pointing to a bruise on his forehead.
A Buddhist monk said he saw policemen kick a high school student in the face.
"Police are beating up everybody," he added. "They are indiscriminately beating up anybody just standing on the streets."
The indiscriminate firing of tear gas in locations where no demonstrations were taking place was witnessed on numerous occasions.
As crowds began to gather on one downtown corner, facing riot police across the street, a young man in suit and tie shook his head and volunteered to a reporter:
"The middle class wants to be free to talk, to publish . . . to know. We can't even stand on the street."
Asked what his business was, he replied: "No, I'm not in business. I'm a student. If I wore casual clothes I'd probably be arrested."