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Chun Doo-hwan
Chun Doo-hwan.png
11th-12th President of South Korea
In office
1980 – 1988
Preceded by Choi Kyu-ha
Succeeded by Roh Tae-woo
Personal details
Born March 6, 1931
Hapcheon, Gyeongsang
In this Korean name, the family name is Chun.

Chun Doo-hwan (born March 6 (Lunar January 18) , 1931) was a Korean military officer and the President of South Korea from 1980 to 1988. He was sentenced to death in 1996. Chun was later pardoned by President Kim Young-sam with the advice of then President-elect Kim Dae-jung, who had sentenced to death by Chun some 20 years earlier.

The road to power

Chun was a graduate of the Korean Military Academy in 1955. He was a member of Hanahoi, a powerful group of military officials that supported his actions. He was in charge of the investigation into the assassination of President Park Chung-hee. On 12 December 1979, in what became known as the Incident of December 12th, Chun ordered the arrest of Army Chief of Staff General Chung Sung Hwa (정승화, 鄭昇和) without authorization from then-President Choi Kyu-ha. He ordered the arrest as part of the investigation of his part in the assassination. Chung Sung Hwa resisted the arrest. This led to a bloody gun fight at the Army Headquarters and the Ministry of Defense. By the next morning, Chun and his fellow military academy graduates Roh Tae-woo and Jeong Ho-yong were in charge of the Korean military.

On 17 May 1980, Chun placed the entire country under martial law and disbanded the National Assembly. Many politicians were arrested, including liberal politician Kim Dae-jung. Kim was later sentenced to death in spite of protests from the United States. Later, Chun changed Kim's sentence in return for U.S. support. Protests across the nation became smaller. However, very violent prostests happened in Gwangju. Protestors Lootinglooted government building. They armed themselves with stolen guns and military jeeps. Protestors killed a couple of policemen and started of violent protest against the government. A couple of hundreds of protestors and some thirty soldiers were killed in the Gwangju. Choi resigned in August, and Chun was elected his successor by the National Conference for Unification, the South Korean electoral college, in September. In February 1981, Chun was elected president under a revised constitution as the candidate of the Democratic Justice Party (later renamed Democratic Republican Party).

Years in office

Chun ruled in an authoritarian manner. The 1981 constitution was less authoritarian than its 1972 predecessor, the Yushin Constitution, but still granted very broad powers to the president. However, it limited the president to one seven-year term. Chun did not try to change it so he could run for reelection in 1988.

By 1986, the general public was happy with the economic growth. However, there was much anger and hatred against Chun's regime by left-wing students who later became known as 386s. The left wing students led the nationwide June 1987 protests. In the same month, U.S. President Ronald Reagan sent a letter to Chun in support of the creation of "democratic institutions." On June 29th, Roh Tae-woo announced a program of reform. This included direct presidential elections, restoration of banned politicians including Kim Dae-jung, and other liberalizing measures. This won Roh instant popularity, and he was elected as the next president of South Korea. It later became known that Chun was responsible for this plan.

During Chun's visit to Rangoon, Burma (now Myanmar) in 1983, a bomb exploded at a mausoleum he was about to visit. The bomb killed 21 people, including South Korean Cabinet members. Chun himself did not die because he got there two minutes late. While no firm evidence of North Korean involvement has been found, they are widely thought to be responsible.

An embattled ex-President

In 1996, former presidents Chun and Roh were jailed on charges of corruption. On December 16, they were also found guilty of treason and mutiny as part of their takeover of power. Chun was sentenced to death. That sentence was changed to a life sentence. He and Roh were pardoned a year later.

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