|Hwang Kyo-ahn, chairman of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, is doused with water on his way to Gwangju-Songjeong Station while facing fierce public opposition in Gwangju, in this May 3 photo. Yonhap file|
By Jung Da-min
Main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) leader Hwang Kyo-ahn plans to visit Gwangju, Saturday, to attend a ceremony marking the 39th anniversary of the Gwangju Democratization Movement, despite risks of a possible clash with citizens there.
The ceremony will be held at the May 18th National Cemetery, attended by about 5,000 people including surviving victims of a military crackdown, families of those who were killed during the incident and civic activists, according to the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, Thursday.
Hwang has expressed his willingness to attend the ceremony, saying he had been officially invited by the ministry. However, the people of Gwangju have opposed his visit, condemning Hwang for not punishing LKP members who made controversial remarks on the 1980 democratization movement.
Concerns are rising about a possible clash there given strong public antipathy in the city toward the conservative party. Some critics even alleged that Hwang intends to trigger a clash in order to further his political interests.
"I will go my own way," Hwang said Wednesday. "I will keep this position and listen to the people's stories."
Hwang's remarks have created a storm of criticism from other parties as well as local councilors and civic groups in Gwangju, who say Hwang should first resolve the issue of punishing his party members for disparaging people who died in the pro-democracy movement.
"If Hwang wants to attend the ceremony and memorial events, he should first weed out the members of his party who made absurd remarks about the democratization movement, work out specific plans to establish relevant laws to punish such defamation and distortion of history, launch a truth commission into the case with no conditions and apologize sincerely to the people of Gwangju for disparaging the noble spirit and value of the May 18 movement," civic groups in Gwangju, including the May 18 People's Uprising Memorial Committee, said in a recent statement.
|Civic groups including the May 18 People's Uprising Memorial Committee hold a press conference at 5.18 Democracy Square in Gwangju, Tuesday, protesting Liberty Korea Party leader Hwang Kyo-ahn's planned visit on Saturday to attend the ceremony marking the 39th anniversary of the Gwangju Democratization Movement. Yonhap|
The defamation controversy started in February when some LKP members organized a forum at the National Assembly on the Gwangju uprising echoing far-right claims that the movement was a "riot" involving North Korean military against then-Army General Chun Doo-hwan, who had seized power in a military coup in late 1979.
Rep. Kim Jin-tae, Kim Soon-rye and Lee Jong-myeong of the main opposition party have been at the center of the controversy.
The calls for legal punishment for their distortions and disparagement of the Gwangju Democratization Movement has gained more public support recently, a poll showed Thursday.
This came amid new testimony by Kim Yong-chang, a former intelligence agent for the U.S. military who had been in charge of reporting what he saw and heard during the 1980 Gwangju Uprising. He claimed there had been no involvement of the North Korean army but it was Chun who had ordered the "shooting" at the citizens leading the movement.
In a poll of 501 adults over 19 conducted by Realmeter on Wednesday, 60.6 percent said they support the establishment of relevant laws to punish distortion of the May 18 Movement, while 30.3 percent opposed it.
It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points with a 95 percent confidence level.
The support rate rose 5.6 percentage points from 55 percent in a Realmeter poll in February, while the opposition rate dropped by 4.4 percentage points from 34.7 percent in the earlier poll.
Support for LKP also dropped by 4.1 percent this week to 30.2 percent, from 34.3 percent last week, another Realmeter poll conducted from May 13 to 15 of 1,502 voters showed Thursday.
The ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) saw a 4.6 percent increase in its support rate, which marked 43.3 percent this week.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points with a 95 percent confidence level.