The relative calm in South Korea yesterday seemed to be the quiet before a storm. Both the forces of the political opposition and those of the military-backed regime are geared up for a confrontation in the streets of Seoul and other major cities today. The opposition has called for a mass ``Peace March'' to press for constitutional reform and democratization.
The government has vowed to crush what it called ``the reckless and illegal demonstrations.'' In language reflecting the gathering mood of confrontation, National Police Director-General Kwon Bok Kyong charged that the protests are ``aimed at driving society into extreme chaos and anxiety to achieve its [the opposition coalition's] subversive political objectives.''
The demonstrations are seen as a test of strength following the summit meeting Wednesday between President Chun Doo Hwan and opposition leader Kim Young Sam.
The opposition has labeled the talks a failure, saying the regime did not make serious concessions to opposition demands for a retraction of the government's April 13 decision to suspend talks on a new, more democratic constitution.
The summit ``failed to calm down our people's movement,'' opposition leader Kim Dae Jung said in an interview yesterday. ``Tomorrow's rally is another decisive case to determine our political future.''
The only concrete result of the meeting was Mr. Kim's release from house arrest.
The government continues to insist that its offer to resume talks in the National Assembly represents a commitment to resume dialogue. ``The political opposition should end their insistence on solving all problems in one sweep,'' said a presidential spokesman, ``and should instead approach the issue in a more patient and earnest attitude.''
The government is hoping this stance, along with its threat to block assembly before the march, will keep down the turnout on Friday.
The prospects for serious street clashes and violence is raising fears that that the government may move to impose martial law or some kind of emergency rule.
``I cannot deny that possiblity,'' said Kim Dae Jung. ``This government may be seeking to get that sort of chance.''
The opposition is urging participants to maintain a non-violent stance, fearing radical students may seek clashes with police.
Gaston Sigur, United States assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, warned against such a turn of events.
``Our position is crystal clear - we oppose martial law,'' Mr. Sigur told reporters before his departure yesterday after a two day fact finding visit. ``Any use of the armed forces in this situation is unwarranted.''
Sigur, who met with both government and opposition leaders, called on both sides to proceed with dialogue. ``Hopefully dialogue will continue and move forward at various levels, so that action can be agreed upon,'' he said.
He expressed confidence in the prospects for agreement, while admitting that the gulf between the two sides is wide.
Sigur's visit won praise from the opposition, which has been critical of what it sees as American backing for the Chun regime.
``I told Mr. Sigur I think your government is now headed in the right direction,'' Kim said. He pointed favorably, as evidence, to the US ``openly advocating the support of our peoples' efforts at democratization'' and the ``open opposition to military involvement in politics.''
[Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported North Korea, which said Wednesday that the situation in South Korea was as dangerous as when the two countries went to war 37 years ago, said yesterday it had no intention of involving itself by force in South Korea.]
A photo of South Korean opposition leader Kim Young Sam on P. 8 of Friday's Monitor was incorrectly identified as Kim Dae Jung.