In a renewed crackdown on violence, the South Korean government ordered police Wednesday to use guns on radicals attacking police posts and public facilities.
President Roh Tae Woo directed senior security officials to act against “leftist forces trying to overthrow the government through revolution,” presidential spokesman Lee Soo Jung said, the Yonhap news agency reported.
The national police chief, Cho Jong Sok, told police commissioners from across the country to “open fire if necessary at those throwing Molotov cocktails and other homemade bombs at police and government installations.”
South Korean police are empowered by law to use arms against criminals but rarely do so. They normally use only tear gas to defend themselves against violent acts such as firebombings.
Roh Postponed Referendum
The directive to police came two days after Roh announced he was postponing a national referendum he had promised as a midterm appraisal of his government.
Roh announced Monday in a nationally televised speech that he was postponing indefinitely the referendum he had promised during the 1987 election campaign. He accused leftist forces of trying to use the referendum, which had been expected to be held in April, to organize violent protests to overthrow the government.
It was not clear if Roh was backing away from the referendum because of concern over potential unrest, or because he feared the government could not win the vote and might be forced into a new election.
Dissidents charged that Roh wants to delay the referendum because he is unpopular.
Opposition Accepts Delay
The main opposition parties accepted Roh’s decision. Top opposition leader Kim Dae Jung had urged Roh to avoid political unrest by holding the referendum after addressing corruption and other abuses left over from Roh’s authoritarian predecessor, Chun Doo Hwan.
Major opposition parties denounced the new policy of allowing police to carry guns. “We are shocked and cannot but express anger,” said a statement by the opposition party led by Kim Young Sam.
Cho, the national police chief, cautioned officers to use weapons prudently and aim at ankles and other non-vital parts of the body, newspaper accounts said.