Dropped song hits sour note at May 18 ceremony

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Dropped song hits sour note at May 18 ceremony

A song became the catalyst of friction between civic groups and the government yesterday as two separate commemorative ceremonies marked the 30th anniversary of the Gwangju democracy movement.

“March for Lovers” gained popularity during the May 18, 1980, freedom riots, and has become a rallying song at left-wing protests since then. Its absence from the official ceremony raised speculation that the government is trying to nullify the progressive nature of the democracy movement.

Yesterday’s ceremonies marked the beginning of the Gwangju democracy movement, when citizens rose up against the military regime of Gen. Chun Doo Hwan, who would become president months later. After nine days, Gwangju’s citizens were defeated by the military.

The government affair, held at the May 18th National Cemetery in Gwang-ju, was presided over by Prime Minister Chung Un-chan, who gave a speech on behalf of President Lee Myung-bak.

“Korea’s democracy blossomed on the basis of the spirit of the May 18th democracy movement,” Chung told the assembly of about 1,500 people, who included Grand National Party Chairman Chung Mong-joon, Democratic Party Chairman Chung Sye-kyun and relatives of those who lost their lives during the uprising.

The Blue House said Lee was unable to attend because of a summit with the Bangladeshi president, but his absence - and the song’s - inflamed the commemorative groups led by the May 18 Ceremony Committee.

They held their own event, attended by political figures including Democratic Labor Party Chairman Kang Ki-kab, around 300 meters (984 feet) away from the official ceremony spot.

And they made sure their ceremony included “March for Lovers,” which had played in past government commemorations and was a favorite of late former President Roh Moo-hyun.

But it was at the government’s event that the protests were the loudest. Around 50 people, including family members of those killed in the uprising, shook off police restraints and bombarded that ceremony, saying that the march should have been played.

“The song pays respects to Gwangju citizens who paid with their lives for freedom, democracy and human rights,” said Park Jun-yeong, the DP’s nominee for governor of South Jeolla.

GNP Representative Kim Moo-sung expressed dismay that “a decision as to whether a song is played has ruined the commemorative ceremony, which should be held in a solemn manner.”

By Cho Jae-eun [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]

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