Thugs and threats

Tens of thousands of college students gathered on the night before the election in this provincial city, prepared to serve as poll watchers for the opposition. They were met with brutal thuggery by toughs who claimed association with the ruling party and who appeared to have the backing of local police officials.

Chong Yae Chul arrived at Kwi Bin Hotel Tuesday, looking for fellow students from Kyonggi University. When he went up to his room, he was grabbed by waiting men. Five of them, by his account, ``dragged me into the room next door ... and started beating me with their fists, kicking me, using iron pipes.'' The men told the 22-year-old he was a ``communist.''

``If you come to the voting place tomorrow, we'll kill you.''

Later he was taken to the local office of the ruling Democratic Justice Party, where three other badly beaten students were being held. He was then held at a police station until a representative of the opposition party came to get him.

Hours later, about 60 students tried to leave an inn for breakfast. According to Cho Song Yu, they were followed by a group of 30 or 40 men. When the students ran for safety into a restaurant, the men followed armed with axe handles and iron pipes. Some of the students were beaten.

``The students volunteered to guarantee fair elections,'' said Lee Kun Su, a Kyonggi University history professor, sitting at the vote monitoring headquarters. ``If they are going to beat up the students, I'm going to have to doubt the legitimacy of this election.''

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