Rembering the Gwanju Uprising – south Korean Massacre 1980

Today marks the 31st anniversary of the Gwangju Massacre (also commonly referred to as the Gwangju Democratization Movement, Gwanju Uprising). On May 18, 1980 thousands of protesters gathered in the city of Gwangju to protest the dictatorial rule of president Chun Doo Hwan, who took power after assassinating the former Manchukuo Imperial Officer and south Korean dictator Park Chung hee, father of recently impeached and arrested president Park Geun-hye.

The initial peaceful demonstrations by students and working people were fired upon by the south Korean police, which spurred further protests which grew in number across the region. In response, the south Korean government sent in regular army forces and special forces paratroopers. The military began firing upon the protestors, which caused the people to rise up and storm the local armory, arming themselves in self defense.

The south Korean military cordoned off the city of Gwanju but discipline broke down and the army fired upon itself, causing friendly fire deaths.

Dictator Chun Doo Hwan sent in special forces to mop up the uprising, and the uprising was defeated a week later by May 27th, 1980.

Estimates of deaths and casualties range from 606 (official) to over 2000. The south Korean authorities officially labelled the event as a “Communist Insurrection” and did not recognize the massacre until international and internal pressure during the mid 1990s, and finally in 1997 May 18th was noted as a memorial day for the massacre. President Chun Doo Hwan and some of his close advisors were found guilty of the massacre and sentenced to life imprisonment, then immediately pardoned.

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