The ruling and opposition parties paid tribute on Saturday to the victims of a bloody crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising in the southwestern city of Gwangju in 1980 in a rare show of bipartisanship.
The nation marked the 39th anniversary of the landmark movement that the then military-backed government of Chun Doo-hwan clamped down on with the use of force that resulted in hundreds of deaths.
Some civic group members protest the arrival of Hwang Kyo-ahn, the leader of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, in the southwestern city of Gwangju on Saturday. (Yonhap)
"The spirit of the May movement in Gwangju is the root and heart of the Democratic Party," Rep. Hong Ihk-pyo, a spokesman of the ruling party, said in a written commentary.
"The freedom, human rights, equality and peace that the citizens of Gwangju and democracy fighters protected with blood and sweat are the basic values of the Republic of Korea that no one can deny now," he added.
Hong went on to say that the truth behind the deadly crackdown must be unveiled while noting the need to bring those responsible to justice.
The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) also showed its respect for those who were sacrificed in the crackdown.
The party also pledged to accelerate the process to build internal consensus over the issue of reprimanding its members who drew public rebukes for inflammatory remarks by three party lawmakers over the pro-democracy movement.
"It is inappropriate to point out that (our party) is denying history and disparaging the spirit of the May 18 movement," Rep. Min Kyung-wook, a party spokesman, said. "From the bottom of our heart, the LKP deeply understands the sorrow of ordinary citizens."
Public sentiment against the conservative LKP was palpable in Gwangju when hundreds of citizens engaged in scuffles with security personnel when LKP leader Hwang Kyo-ahn arrived there to attend a ceremony to mark the anniversary event.
"How can you come here?" one person shouted upon Hwang arriving at the National Cemetery for the May 18th Democratic Uprising in the city.
The residents there have demanded that the LKP take disciplinary action for the party lawmakers under fire for their verbal gaffes over the uprising should Hwang want to attend the anniversary ceremony.
Before his arrival in Gwangju, Hwang wrote in a social media post that he knows the "pains and pride of Gwangju citizens."
"There is much controversy over my attendance (at the ceremony). Some say that (I) might have made a political calculation to use the negative mood (against LKP) in Gwangju," he wrote on Facebook.
"When we all are free (from divisions), Gwangju can become one and a free democracy on this soil can develop. That is the dream of Gwangju," he added.
The minor opposition Bareunmirae Party said that the Gwangju of 1980 was a historic turning point for South Korea's democracy.
The minor Justice Party stressed the need to bring those responsible for the bloody crackdown to justice while calling on the LKO to sever ties with those who appear to sympathize with the cruel operations to quash the uprising.