Ex-South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan dies at age 90

Former South Korean military strongman Chun Doo-hwan, who took power in a 1979 coup and brutally crushed pro-democracy protests before going to prison for misdeeds in office, passed away on Tuesday.

Emergency officials mentioned Chun died at his home. Police had earlier stated that Chun suffered a cardiac arrest and emergency officials rushed to his Seoul residence.

Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters were murdered and tens of thousands were imprisoned during Chun’s presidency in the 1980s, but he allowed some liberalization after years of authoritarian rule. Under public pressure, he allowed the first direct and free election in the nation’s history.

Facing massive criticism following the time he left office in 1988, Chun took refuge for two years in a Buddhist temple before being arrested.

He was later tried for corruption, mutiny and treason and was sentenced to death upon conviction. He was pardoned in 1997 in a bid for national reconciliation.

The 90-year-old was an army major general when he seized power in December 1979 with his military cronies. Tanks and troops rolled into Seoul in a coup that came less than two months after his mentor, President Park Chung-hee, was assassinated by the intelligence chief during a late-night drinking party.

Chun consolidated his power fast by suppressing a civil uprising in the southern city of Gwangju, then spelled Kwangju. His government also imprisoned tens of thousands of students and other citizens, mentioning it was rooting out social evil.

Government records show the military crackdown on Gwangju resulted in the deaths of about 200 people. Activists, however, say far more civilians died. Chun’s military tribunal arrested opposition leader Kim Dae-jung and sentenced him to death for allegedly fomenting the Gwangju uprising.

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