Thursday 22 August 2019

Former South Korean president Kim Young-sam dies

Former South Korean president Kim Young-sam has died (AP)
Former South Korean president Kim Young-sam has died (AP)

Former South Korean president Kim Young-sam has died at the age of 87.

Mr Kim, who served as president from 1993-98, is believed to have suffered from a severe blood infection and acute heart failure before he died at Seoul National University Hospital.

The former premier was a major player in South Korea's rise to democracy. He opposed the country's military dictators for decades and laid the foundation for a peaceful power transfer as president.

He also opposed the US government's idea of striking a North Korean nuclear complex in 1994, fearing a possible war.

Mr Kim faced humiliation when he accepted a 58 billion dollar bailout from the International Monetary Fund during the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s.

Mr Kim was taken to hospital on Thursday with a high fever, and had been treated in recent years for stroke, angina and pneumonia.

He was an important figure in South Korea's pro-democracy movement and opposed the country's military dictators for decades.

As president, Mr Kim laid the foundation for a peaceful power transfer in a country that had been marked by military coups.

During his presidency, he had his two predecessors indicted on mutiny and treason charges stemming from a coup. However, Mr Kim pardoned the two convicted military strongmen - Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo - at the end of his term.

Mr Kim also launched a popular anti-corruption campaign and vowed not to receive any political slush funds, though this was later tarnished when his son was arrested on charges of bribery and tax evasion.

He led South Korea in 1994 when the Clinton administration was considering attacking Nyongbyon - home to North Korea's nuclear complex - north of communist North Korea's capital, Pyongyang. Mr Kim lobbied against the idea.

A US aircraft carrier and a cruiser had been deployed near South Korea's east coast in preparation for a possible air strike, and the United States planned to evacuate Americans, including its soldiers and their families, Mr Kim said in a memoir.

A US air strike "will immediately prompt North Korea to open fire against major South Korean cities from the border," Mr Kim said his memoir, describing his dawn telephone conversation with then-US president Bill Clinton in June 1994.

The crisis eased when former president Jimmy Carter met with the North's leader and founder Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, which led to an accord aimed at freezing North Korea's plutonium-based nuclear programmes.

That deal collapsed in 2002 when the United States accused North Korea of running a secret uranium-based program, sparking another nuclear crisis.

Mr Kim was credited with disbanding a key military faction and bringing transparency to the South's murky financial system. But he was also accused of mismanaging the economy during the Asian financial crisis that toppled some of the country's debt-ridden conglomerates, and forced the government to accept a 58 billion dollar bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

Mr Kim was born into a rich fishing family on December 20, 1927, in Koje Island off the south-eastern tip of the Korean peninsula when the country was still under Japanese colonial rule. During the Korean War, he anchored a defence ministry propaganda radio programme.

In 1954, Kim was elected as the youngest member of the National Assembly. At that time, he was a member of the ruling party of the late Syngman Rhee, South Korea's first president.

But a few months later, he broke with the ruling party in protest over a constitutional revision and joined the opposition party, drawing anger from military rulers.

In 1979, Mr Kim was expelled from the assembly for his anti-government activities, shortly before then president Park Chung-hee - who seized power in a military coup in 1961 - was assassinated by his intelligence chief.

During that chaotic period, Major General Chun Doo-hwan and his military cronies rolled tanks and troops into Seoul to seize power in another coup that ended an interim government.

In the early 1980s, Mr Kim was placed under house arrest twice and staged a 23-day hunger strike to protest political oppression.

Mr Kim spent more than three decades in opposition as an advocate for democracy, though he later joined hands with military leader Roh Tae-woo and others to create a new ruling party.

In 1992, Kim became the head of the ruling party and was elected president, five years after his first unsuccessful presidential bid.

Kim is survived by his wife and two sons and three daughters.

PA Media

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