Moon angers competitors with Chun reference

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Moon angers competitors with Chun reference

Presidential frontrunner Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party has been in hot water over the past few days for his remark made during a televised debate on Sunday in which he remembered winning a citation from then-brigade commander Chun Doo Hwan for his military service as a Special Forces soldier in the mid 1970s.

Moon’s remark sparked immediate protest and criticism from his primary rivals, South Chungcheong Governor An Hee-jung and Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung, hoping to make Jeolla voters turn on Moon with the DP’s primary election in Gwangju only five days away from Wednesday.

It was during Moon’s debate with An, Lee and Goyang Mayor Choi Sung that he made the remark. When asked about a moment of importance in his life, Moon showed a photo taken in 1975 of himself in Special Forces uniform in an apparent attempt to appeal to national security-conscious voters.

“It was during this time that I came into my own in terms of principles of national security and well being of the state,” he said. “I was also awarded the military citation from then-brigade commander Chun Doo Hwan, who later became head of the rebellion forces [in a military coup in 1979].”

Chun is deeply reviled in Gwangju and much of Jeolla region for his bloody crackdown on the May 18 Gwangju uprising for democracy in 1980. The military government’s cruel response left 154 dead, 70 missing and 1,628 injured, according to the May 18 Memorial Foundation.

The timing of the controversy comes as the DP is set to hold a primary election next Monday for party members as well as those without DP affiliations in the Jeolla region.

Moon’s competitors have all criticized his remark.

“Moon should have been more careful in choosing his words considering the traumatic experiences people in Jeolla suffered under Chun Doo Hwan,” said Mayor Lee. “I would like Moon to offer his apology for the remark.”

On Monday, Moon likened their criticism to an “affront” to his dignity as a former human rights lawyer who fought against Chun’s military regime.

“I have lived my whole life dedicated to the country’s democracy and defending human rights as a lawyer alongside people in Gwangju,” he said. “Such attacks against me are an affront to me as a person.”

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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