Many of the Koreans who thronged the streets here March 3 to cheer President Chun Doo Hwan's inauguration were hoping that the first warm spell in several months signaled the end of their long winter of discontent.
Among those benefiting from the spring warmth (figuratively, at least) were over 2,000 prisoners who were released from 30 South Korean jails. Their unexpected freedome was part of a special amnesty granted to a total of 5,221 people by President Chun to cellebrate his inauguration as the fifth president of the Republic of Korea.
The decision to offer amnesty on the largest scale ever in South Korea's history was officially announced some hours after Amnesty International, the London-based human-rights organization, had said it would be campaigning fr the release of about 500 political prisoners in South Korea. Amnesty International called on President Chun to commute death sentences and investigate reports to torture in Korean prisons.
But General Chun was clearly not yielding to foreign pressure, for he had already promised an amnesty, which is a Korean tradition to celebrate auspicious occasions of state.
Among those who benefited from the amnesty was former Army chief of staff and martial law commander, Gen Chung Seung Hwa, who was sentenced to seven years in prison for helping in the plot to assassinate former President Park Chung Hee in October 1979. General Chung's sentence has been suspended, and the life sentence imposed on former chief presidential secretary Kim Kae Won, for his part in the plot, has been commuted to 20 years.
Also to be released are 176 people imprisoned after last May's uprising in the southern town of Kwangju, and President Chun has promised to deal leniently with another 83 people involved in the Kwangju incident, whose appeals, including three against the death sentence, are still pending. The amnesty will not, however, affect leading dissident Kim Dae Jung, whose death sentence has already been commuted to life.
But President Chun, speaking at his inauguration ceremony, warned that "expecting the government to be lenient with violations of the law could create the dangerous situation in which power is placed above law."
The former Army strong man imposed strict disciplinary measures when he took control of the country during a period of political turmoil last year and purged all sectors of Korean society. But in recent months he has wooed the Korean electorate by relaxing many restrictions, lifting martial law, and allowing democratic elections. In his inaugural address, he promised to prevent the recurrence of political repression and abuses of power in South Korea.
The President devoted a significatn portion of his speech to national security. He pointed out that Koreans had suffered 36 years of humiliation under harsh Japanese colonial rule and this had been followed by a further 36 years of chaos and turbulence. This coincidence of history should mark the beginning of a new era, he said.
President Chun reiterated his proposal, first made in January, for an exchange of visits between himself and the North Korean leader, Kim II Sung. He said, "The grim bleakness of life in North Korea in political, economic, social, cultural, and humane terms, is without parallel," and called for an end to the total isolation of the North.
To celebrate President Chun's inauguration the day was declared a national holiday and the midnight to 4 a.M. curfew lifted for one night. Over 200 foreign delegates representing some 70 different countries were in Seoul for the ceremony, which was televised live throughout the country and in Japan.
Fireworks, cultural programs, and official recptions were held in Seoul and in the provinces. and although the President had ordered an end to the former practice of forcibly mobilizing schoolchildren and employees to line the streets and wave flags, huge crowds of onlookers gathered in the center of Seoul to watch a military and cultural parade and cheer the President.