Roh Tae-woo, who restored direct elections, dies at 88

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Roh Tae-woo, who restored direct elections, dies at 88

Former President Roh Tae-woo, who died on Tuesday at the age of 88, is shown in this file photo at the opening ceremony for the Seoul Summer Olympic Games in 1988. [YONHAP]

Former President Roh Tae-woo, who died on Tuesday at the age of 88, is shown in this file photo at the opening ceremony for the Seoul Summer Olympic Games in 1988. [YONHAP]

Former President Roh Tae-woo, who heeded popular demand for direct presidential elections and began normalizing relations with socialist countries, passed away on Tuesday, according to his aides.
 
He was 88 years old. 
 
Roh, who served as the 13th president of the Republic of Korea from 1988 to 1993, suffered from ill health in recent years due to an unspecified chronic condition and was recently admitted to Seoul National University Hospital as his health deteriorated.
 
Born in Daegu in December 1932, Roh became friends in high school with a fellow student, Chun Doo Hwan. 
 
Following the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, Roh joined the Army and later attended the Korean Military Academy with Chun, and they both graduated in 1955. Roh rose steadily through the ranks thereafter, becoming a general by 1979. 
 
In December 1979, two months after President Park Chung-hee was assassinated, Chun and fellow officers launched a military coup against the civilian government. Roh, an army division commander, gave them crucial support. 
 
Roh was a member of the junta that ordered the brutal suppression of demonstrators in Gwangju in May 1980.After Chun became president in 1980, Roh resigned from the military and served in a series of ministerial positions and as a member of the 12th National Assembly. 
 
Chun and Roh enjoyed a close relationship through the years. 
 
Chun's announcement in June 1987 that Roh would be the candidate for the country's ruling Democratic Justice Party in upcoming presidential elections sparked widespread popular unrest. The constitution at the time practically guaranteed Roh's election.
 
As pro-democracy rallies spread across the country, Roh accepted protesters' demand for direct presidential elections on June 29, 1987. He was elected president later that year through a direct vote after the opposition vote was split between the candidacies of Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam. 
 
As president, Roh announced "an era of ordinary people" had arrived in Korea, and de-emphasized the central role of the military in the country.Roh also announced a policy of "Nordpolitik," of building ties with socialist states that were North Korea's closest allies, China and the Soviet Union, in order to engage with the North. 
 
Partially as a result of his diplomacy, the Soviet Union dropped its opposition to South Korean membership in the United Nations, and both Koreas were simultaneously admitted to the body in 1991. 
 
South Korea established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1990 and China in 1992.In 1996, three years after leaving the presidency, Roh was convicted with Chun of corruption, mutiny for their role in the 1979 military coup and for murder in the brutal crackdown on the Gwangju pro-democracy uprising. 
 
Although Roh was sentenced to 17 years in prison and faced around 260 billion won ($223 million) in fines, he was pardoned in 1997 under the government of his successor, President Kim Young-sam.

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]
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