Park Chung Hee statue installation sparks row

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Park Chung Hee statue installation sparks row

Supporters of late South Korean dictator Park Chung Hee clashed with anti-Park groups Monday over the installation of his statue, currently being carried out by a foundation in western Seoul.

The President Park Chung Hee Memorial Foundation held a ceremony earlier to celebrate the planned installation of a 4.2-meter (13.7-foot) high bronze statue of the former president on its front lawn. Attended by key conservative figures, it was awarded a certificate from the statue’s sponsor, a conservative group that advocates the legacies of South Korea’s first president, Rhee Syng-man, and former U.S. President Harry S. Truman - the two leaders during the Korean War - as well as Park.

“We need to remember his accomplishments that led to the prosperity under which we live,” an official from the advocate group said in a speech.

A packed gathering of protesters staged a rally against the statue further down the pavement, saying that “an enemy officer who betrayed and fought against his own people will never be a subject of commemoration, if he is not punished.” The anti-Park group also urged the Seoul Metropolitan Government not to approve the installation.

Eighty police officers were dispatched to the site to guard against any aggravation between the groups.

Park’s 18-year dictatorship, which ended with his assassination in 1979, still draws a stark divide in ideological debates. While conservatives support his legacy, which they say has helped the country’s fast economic growth, liberals denounce him as a strongman who had no scruples about ruthlessly cracking down on his political opponents and infringing people’s basic rights.

Park is the father of ousted President Park Geun-hye, currently detained and standing trial over a massive influence-peddling scandal.

The foundation said it will formally request approval from the Seoul city government for the statue’s installation.

The statue is now stored in Goyang, north of Seoul, it said, but did not give further details for fear of damage to the statue if its location were known. The President Park Chung Hee Memorial Foundation was set up in 2012 with a state subsidy of 20 billion won ($17.8 million) on land owned by the Seoul city government.

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