Sixth S. Korean Burns to Death; Protests Spread

Share via

Another South Korean set herself afire--the sixth such death in three weeks of protests--as about 60,000 demonstrators here completed a funeral for a student beaten to death by police, commemorated the anniversary of an uprising in Kwangju and protested President Roh Tae Woo’s policies.

Nationwide, at least 200,000 demonstrated in more than 80 cities, according to Yonhap News Agency--equal to the turnout in protests last Tuesday. Some Korean newspapers estimated that 300,000 to 400,000 demonstrated Saturday.

The largest crowd was in Kwangju, where 100,000 gathered for a street ceremony. In that southwestern city in 1980, troops sent in to quell a protest against a military coup killed at least 200 civilians. Roh, then a two-star general commanding a front-line division, was a principal backer of the coup, which was led by his predecessor, former President Chun Doo Hwan.


About 20,000 people gathered for a demonstration in Pusan, another southern city.

In Seoul, violence and confrontation escalated. At least five areas of the city, four of them downtown, were paralyzed for hours as a protester set herself afire.

Crying “Down with Roh Tae Woo,” with her clothes in flames, Lee Jong Soon, 39, a native of the southwestern region in which Kwangju is located, leaped from a 40-foot-high railway bridge in front of the main gate of Yonsei University just as the funeral procession was about to leave the campus.

“I gladly sacrifice myself to the proud sons and daughters of my country. Dissolve the Skeleton Corps! Step down, military dictatorship!” said a note found in her purse. The Skeleton Corps refers to riot police trained in martial arts.

Students carried her body, covering it with newspapers, to the nearby Yonsei Hospital, but she was pronounced dead 20 minutes later. She was identified as a Seoul peddler.

For five hours in the afternoon, radicals in a funeral procession of about 10,000 for Kang Kyung Dae, 20, a Myungji University student clubbed to death by police officers April 26, battled police who stopped the marchers as they headed toward the city center.

Finally, police offered to permit the procession to stage a traditional “roadside” farewell ceremony at an area away from the city center, and the funeral organizers accepted. The procession then moved forward peacefully, gathering a crowd that reached an estimated 50,000.


In the afternoon fighting, however, a substation of the National Police and a police tear-gas van were burned.

Elsewhere, guerrilla-like bands of students, ranging from 2,000 to 5,000, used stones and firebombs to battle police firing pepper gas, a volatile form of tear gas, turning much of four sections of the city center into a ghost town. Pedestrians were guided away from the areas by police, and shops were closed.

An attempted self-immolation occurred in the Chollanam province town of Posong, where an 18-year-old high school senior, Kim Chul Soo, doused himself with paint thinner and set himself afire at a school athletic ground where 500 students were holding a memorial ceremony for the uprising in Kwangju, the provincial capital. He was hospitalized and was listed in critical condition.

Three journalists working for foreign media reported that they were beaten by students in the crowd outside Yonsei University’s main gate when they attempted to photograph Lee after she leaped from the bridge.

They were identified as Kim Hyo Sung, a cameraman, and Cho Nam Baek, a soundman, both Koreans working for the Cable News Network, and Itsuo Inoue, a Japanese Associated Press photographer. The two CNN technicians, who were attacked with steel pipes, were hospitalized.

Students in the crowd said they were angry that the journalists were filming a dying person.


Immediately after Lee was carried to the hospital, a student shouted over a microphone to the crowds: “How many more will be forced to sacrifice their lives to their murderous government?”

Lee was the sixth person to commit self-immolation since April 26. Along with Kang, the student beaten to death by police, a labor union leader who died in a fall from a hospital roof while under police custody, and Kwangju student Park Seung Hee, 19, who set herself afire April 29 and died early today, Lee’s death brought the toll in 24 days of protests to eight.

Roh was reportedly preparing to announce measures to defuse the political unrest, but he offered no sign of compromise Saturday.

The president condemned the demonstrations as an attempt by radicals to overthrow his government and ordered police to arrest about 100 dissidents and students who organized Kang’s funeral.

For its part, the funeral committee, which has transformed itself into an umbrella for dissident organizations, dropped a demand for Roh’s ouster. But in a long list of what it called its “minimum demands”--including action to combat inflation, soaring housing costs and the “plight of farmers”--were a host of political moves that Roh is considered certain to reject.