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3 reps facing disciplinary actions

Remarks on Gwangju could lead to ouster from party, Assembly

Feb 13,2019
Three conservative lawmakers are facing disciplinary hearings by their party and the National Assembly for remarks disparaging the 1980 democratization movement in Gwangju.

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and three other opposition parties referred Tuesday three Liberty Korea Party (LKP) lawmakers to the National Assembly’s Special Committee on Ethics, seeking their expulsion from the legislature. They said Reps. Kim Jin-tae, Lee Jong-myeong and Kim Soon-rye must be punished for denigrating the Gwangju uprising of May 18 to 27, 1980, which called for democracy and an end to the junta of Chun Doo Hwan.

At a public forum hosted by Kim Jin-tae and Lee Friday, the three lawmakers and a conservative political scientist Jee Man-won stirred controversy by arguing the democratization movement was a riot influenced by North Korea.

The uprising against Chun, who had risen to power through a military coup, was re-evaluated as a democratic movement after the Kim Young-sam administration in 1993. In 1997, the government designated May 18 as an official memorial anniversary by law and an official ceremony has been held every year at the national cemetery in Gwangju.

Kim Byung-joon, the interim head of the LKP, issued a public apology Tuesday for the lawmakers’ remarks. He said the party’s own investigation concluded the forum’s presentation by Jee was a false argument, and the lawmakers’ remarks were inappropriate.

At a press conference Tuesday morning, Kim also said the three lawmakers were referred to the party’s disciplinary committee. He said he personally will face a disciplinary hearing because he is responsible for overseeing lawmakers.

The heaviest punishment that committee can hand down is expulsion from the party.

The LKP, however, criticized President Moon Jae-in Tuesday for his rejection of two candidates for a fact-finding commission about the democratic uprising. The LKP recommended three candidates to serve on the commission last month, but Moon only accepted Cha Gi-hwan, a former judge.

The Blue House said Kwon Tae-oh and Lee Dong-uk, recommended by the LKP, are legally unfit to serve, so it asked the LKP to nominate new candidates. Kwon is a former operations chief of the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command and Lee is a former reporter of the Chosun Ilbo.

Because the Army was accused of covering up evidence of the military’s brutal crushing of the uprising, Kwon’s suitability was questioned.

Lee, when he was working as a journalist in 1996, argued in an article that the prosecution’s announcements and media reports on the military’s use of heavy weapons and tanks in Gwangju had been exaggerated.

Throughout his political career, Moon has promised to shed new light of the tragedy. Probes were conducted in 2018 by the Ministry of National Defense on lingering allegations, and the government admitted for the first time that the military fired upon demonstrators from helicopter. The minister of defense issued an apology. Later that year, another apology was issued about sexual assaults by soldiers during their crackdown.

After months of political wrangling, the National Assembly passed a special law to reinvestigate the Gwangju uprising in February 2018. The law took effect as of Sept. 14, 2018, but no fact-finding commission was created as the LKP delayed its nominations.

The fact-finding commission was supposed to have nine members. The National Assembly speaker was to nominate one, while the ruling and opposition parties were each to nominate four. The president was to appoint the members, unless they are unfit to serve.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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