SEOUL, South Korea – Former South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan, whose swift, bloody coup overthrew his longtime rival in 1980 and led to the deaths of more than 20,000 people, has died. He was 90.
The eldest son of dictator Park Chung-hee, Chun was the head of the Korean People’s Army and the country’s youngest military commander when he seized power in a military coup that ousted Park on May 18, 1980.
Chun ordered the arrests and killings of thousands of leftists, prominent members of the Catholic Church and students. Some were burned alive in their homes. Others were buried in mass graves.
Chun led the country until he was forced to step down in 1987, a year after liberal President Roh Tae-woo came to power. He served two years in jail on treason charges, and was released in 1992 when the Constitutional Court ruled he had been victimized by a “witch hunt.”
Chun then threw his support behind Roh, giving him the chance to unite the country after the trauma of Park’s sudden demise. In the ensuing political upheaval, South Korea retained two two-month periods of martial law and curfew.
Chun spent the next decade in seclusion as a private citizen, married and enjoying his retirement on a farm near the capital Seoul. He returned to politics after he was diagnosed with dementia in 2010.