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Local council pushes for bill to mandate removal of statues of former presidents

Statues of former Presidents Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo at Cheongnamdae (Yonhap)
Statues of former Presidents Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo at Cheongnamdae (Yonhap)

CHEONGJU -- Councilors in the central province of North Chungcheong are pushing for legislation to support a plan to remove the statues of two former disgraced presidents from a public park. 

The provincial government decided on May 14 to remove all monuments of former Presidents Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo from Cheongnamdae, formerly a presidential retreat in Cheongju, about 140 kilometers south of Seoul. 

The two former Army generals led a coup in 1979 and ruled the country from 1980-1993. They were imprisoned in the mid-1990s after being convicted of mutiny and corruption.

A committee of the local council announced a bill early this week that calls for the suspension and withdrawal of local commemorative projects for former heads of state who have received a prison sentence. 

The ordinance proposed by a member of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) will be dealt with during an extraordinary session set to open July 7.     

The move came amid controversy over the legality of the planned removal. 

The province's decision is based on the national act on the treatment of former presidents, which stipulates that all lifetime benefits but security measures shall be withdrawn if a former president is sentenced to a prison term. 

The provincial government has yet to proceed with the plan, as critics questioned whether commemorative projects in the popular tourist site, including statues, paths named after them, and exhibits of paintings, records and materials, can be regarded as the benefits listed in the provision.

"Once the bill passes, the statues of the two former presidents will be removed without disputes," a councilor said. 

Cheongnamdae, which means a southern Cheong Wa Dae, was built as a presidential villa in 1983 during Chun's presidency. It was turned into a public park managed by North Chungcheong Province in 2003.

The two former leaders were arrested in 1995 on charges of leading the 1979 military coup and a bloody crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising in Gwangju the following year. 

Chun, president from 1980-1988, was sentenced to life imprisonment, while Roh, in office from 1988-1993, who was also charged with corruption, received 17 years in prison. They were pardoned in 1997 by then President Kim Dae-jung. (Yonhap)