SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – Former South Korean military boss Chun Doo-hwan, who took power in a 1979 coup and cracked down on pro-democracy protests before going to prison for criminal acts during his tenure, died Tuesday. He was 90 years old.
Emergency services officials said Chun died at his residence. Previously, the police had reported that Chun suffered a heart attack and emergency personnel reported to his home in Seoul.
Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters were killed and tens of thousands were imprisoned during the Chun government in the 1980s, but it allowed for some liberalization after years of an authoritarian rule. Yielding to public pressure, he agreed to hold the first free and direct elections in the history of the country.
Faced with huge criticism after leaving power in 1988, Chun took refuge for two years in a Buddhist temple before being arrested. He was tried for corruption, rebellion and treason and was sentenced to death after being convicted. He received a pardon in 1997, in an attempt at national reconciliation.
Chun was a major general in the Army when he took power in December 1979 with military backing. Tanks and soldiers marched on Seoul in a coup that occurred less than two months after their mentor, President Park Chung-hee, was assassinated by his intelligence director during a late-night party.
Chun quickly consolidated his power by suppressing a civil uprising in the southern city of Gwangju. His government also ordered the imprisonment of tens of thousands of students and other citizens, saying it was uprooting social evil.
Government records show that the military crackdown in Gwangju resulted in the deaths of about 200 people. However, activists say the number of civilians killed is much higher. The Chun military court arrested opposition leader Kim Dae-jung and sentenced him to death for allegedly fomenting the uprising in Gwangju.
After the US intervention, Kim’s sentence was reduced and he was subsequently released.
The South Korean economy prospered during Chun’s tenure. The government also successfully organized the 1986 Asian Games and obtained the rights to host the 1988 Seoul Olympics, which began after he left power.