Home / World News / Chun Doo-hwan, South Korea’s Most Vilified Ex-Military Dictator, Dies at 90

Chun Doo-hwan, South Korea’s Most Vilified Ex-Military Dictator, Dies at 90

Dissidents, student activists and journalists were hauled into torture chambers. Under Mr. Chun’s “social purification” program, the government rounded up tens of thousands of gangsters, homeless people, political dissidents and others deemed to be unhealthy elements of the society and trucked them to military barracks for brutal re-education. Hundreds were reported to have died under the program.

North Korea tried to assassinate Mr. Chun while he was visiting Burma, now known as Myanmar, in 1983. Bombs planted by its agents destroyed the Martyrs’ Mausoleum in Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon), then the Burmese capital, and killed 21 people, including several South Korean cabinet ministers. Mr. Chun escaped the attack because his arrival there had been delayed.

Deeply unpopular, Mr. Chun wanted his handpicked successor, Mr. Roh, elected by the same rubber-stamp electoral college. But amid massive protests triggered by the death of a tortured student activist, he and Mr. Roh acceded to a popular election.

Mr. Roh became the country’s first directly elected president in 16 years, thanks largely to the split of opposition votes between the two dissident candidates, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung, whose mutual mistrust was as deep as their common hatred of military rule.

Mr. Chun tried to appease the public calling for his punishment by going into domestic exile in a remote Buddhist monastery. But after Kim Young-sam took power in 1993, he went after Mr. Chun, Mr. Roh and other former generals once considered untouchables.

Mr. Chun was on his way to the bathroom on Tuesday, assisted by his wife, Lee Soon-ja, when he collapsed, said a senior police officer who was in charge of guarding Mr. Chun’s residence in Seoul. In addition to his wife, he is survived by their four children, Jae-yong, Hyo-sun, Jae-guk and Jae-man.

In a Supreme Court ruling in 1997, Mr. Chun was ordered to return 220 billion won, or $190 million, to the state that he had illegally accumulated through bribery. He said he didn’t have enough to pay the fine, though critics accused him of hiding assets in the care of relatives.

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