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'Prosecution suggested absence of ex-president at trial'

 The prosecution suggested former President Chun Doo-hwan, on trial on libel charges in connection with his role in the crackdown of the 1980 Gwangju Democratic Uprising, be absent from the court, his lawyer said Monday. 

The 88-year-old former Army general, who seized power in a military coup on Dec. 12, 1979, and served as president from 1980 to 1988, was absent from a hearing held Monday at the Gwangju District Court. He has not attended court proceedings, citing frail health.

The move comes amid growing criticism of Chun after a photo revealed last week showed that he had hosted an extravagant luncheon at a restaurant in Gangnam on the anniversary of the military coup with those involved in the coup.

Chun’s lawyer made public a statement submitted by the prosecution in May last year ahead of Monday’s hearing.

“The prosecution said that trial could go on without Chun’s attendance because he had a lawyer and the incident was light,” the lawyer said. “The prosecution suggested that the trial could be held in Gwangju without Chun’s attendance for the convenience of many witnesses on the helicopter shooting.”

Stressing the absence of Chun is not in violation of the law, the lawyer said Chun will attend the verdict hearing as required by legal procedures.

Chun is standing trial for allegedly defaming the late activist priest Cho Chul-hyun, who said he had witnessed the military shooting at civilians from helicopters during the bloody crackdown in Gwangju in May 1980.

Cho’s nephew filed a complaint against Chun after the ex-president referred to the deceased as “Satan wearing a mask” and a “liar” in his memoir published in early 2017.

Chun was sentenced to death for sedition and bribery in 1996, but his sentence was later reduced to life imprisonment. He was released in 1997 on a presidential pardon.

By Ock Hyun-ju (