10 Noticeable Events in Korea (1950-2007)

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The Korea Times, the nation’s first English daily, turns 57 on Nov. 1. The TOP 10 Series will feature the biggest news stories, scandals, events, figures, surprises and memorable moments in the coming weeks, in celebration of the anniversary. The series will allow our readers to revisit these moments of the past. Current and former staff members of the oldest English daily selected the Top 10s through internal meetings, online surveys and advice from outside experts. If you have differing opinions, let us know by email (kslee@koreatimes.co.kr).

May 16 (1961) military coup


General Park Chung-hee grasped political power in a military coup on May 16 in 1961.

Thousands of soldiers occupied major government organizations that day, announcing a military reform committee would control the legislative, administrative and judicial powers.

After revising the Constitution, Park became president and the dictatorial regime continued until Oct. 26 in 1979 when he was assassinated.

The Park administration is known for oppressing moves against his dictatorship and exploiting labor for economic development.

Abduction of President Kim Dae-jung (1973)


The nation’s intelligence agents abducted Former President Kim Dae-jung in 1973 when he was an opposition party leader.

The abduction took place five days before the establishment of an organization of overseas Koreans in Tokyo against then President Park Chung-hee. Kim was released near his residence in Seoul after 129 hours of confinement.

Kim, who was elected president in 1998, however, expressed his wish that those involved in the kidnapping should not be punished although the truth should be found out.

Assassination of Park Chung-hee (1979)


Former President Park Chung-hee was shot several times at a secret banquet he held with his entourage on Oct. 26, 1979. Park announced the Constitution for Revitalizing Reform in 1972, which enabled him to remain in the presidency for as long as he wanted. The reform brought about large resistance.

Park’s government suppressed protestors and allegedly killed hundreds of people calling for full democracy. During this time he was assassinated and the military arrested Kim Jae-kyu, the director of Korean Central Intelligence Agency and one of Park’s top aides, as the assassin.

To date, the exact reason for his murder has not been revealed. Kim was executed on May 23, 1980. Park’s daughter Park Geun-hye inherited his political genes and became Grand National Party chairwoman before running for the party’s presidential nomination.

Dec. 12 (1979) Military Coup


Former President Chun Doo-hwan, then a major general, led a military coup on Dec. 12 in 1979 illegally seizing power, two months after the assassination of former President Park Chung-hee.

In an internal military feud, Chun revolted against senior generals and arrested them without the approval from then President Choi Kyu-hah, who resigned in 1980. Chun appointed himself the country’s fifth president in 1980.

The incident was justified until the term of former President Roh Taewoo, another general-turned-president who succeeded Chun, but was later described as a coup d’etat.

June (1987) Pro-Democracy Movement071021_p14_05.jpg

In June 1987, hundreds of thousands of people, including students, activists and salaried workers, joined a massive pro-democracy movement against then President Chun Doo-hwan’s dictatorship as well as the corruption in his government.

Chun took power in a military coup in late 1979 and ruled the country for seven years but the struggle was a serious and direct blow to the dictatorship as well as a contribution to the improvement in human rights and democratization.

It became the landmark year for the nation’s pro-democracy movement.

Bombing of KAL Jet (1987)071021_p14_07.jpg

The bombing of a Korean Air Lines Boeing 707 from Baghdad to Seoul on Nov. 29, 1987 alarmed the world.

The investigative body announced that it was Kim Il-sung, then North Korean leader, who gave the order to kill 93 Koreans, two foreigners and 20 aircrew in the air of Burma.

Kim Hyun-hui, then a 27-year-old woman, and another North Korean agent allegedly planted time bombs on the Korean Air flight. The United Nations Security Council held a meeting to censure the terrorist attack soon after. Kim later married a former National Intelligence Service agent and is living anonymously in South Korea.

1988 Seoul Olympics


More than 8,465 athletes from 159 countries gathered in Seoul to participate in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, which lasted from Sept. 17 to Oct. 2. The city succeeded in hosting the games in 1981, beating Nagoya in Japan. Korea became the second city in Asia and 16th in the world to hold the games.

The Olympics had 33 world records, five world ties, 227 Olympic records and 42 Olympic ties in 23 official sports and six events.

The Soviet Union won the first place by winning 55 gold medals. Korea took fourth place.

The games were significant as the athletes from both capitalist and Communist countries participated together in 16 years after the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany where two Israeli players were killed by alleged Palestine Liberation Organization. The games were labeled as the Olympics of peace and promoted modern Korea to the world.

1997 Financial Crisis


Korea’s economy seemed to bloom in the late 1990s. Everyone was cherishing the sweetness of large imports and exports. However, at the end of 1997, people realized that banks and companies were overextended in the loans and foreign investors began to leave. The country suddenly had a money drought.

The International Monetary Fund in December lent money to the government, and in return it asked for an intensive recovery program. Companies had to fire workers and hire temporary or non-regular workers to cut costs. People began to tighten their belts to prepare for possible lay-offs.

The country was able to pay back all the money by 2001, three years earlier than expected. However, people still recall the time as nightmare. It also brought in labor problems ? gaps between regular and non-regular workers, company restructuring and others. Now, not many youngsters think their workplaces have job security like their fathers did 20 years ago.

First Inter-Korean Summit in 2000


In 2000, former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung held a historic summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

During the first face-to-face summit, the two leaders talked about a set of cross-border economic projects and exchanges but the summit had more meaning as a symbolic gesture of the peaceful reunification of the two divided country.

Kim won the Nobel Peace Prize later that year in recognition of his efforts toward building peace on the peninsula.

Scientist Hwang’s research fabrication (2004)


Former Seoul National University’ veterinary professor Hwang Woo-suk surprised the world in early 2004 when he was believed to have create the world’s first cloned human embryonic stem cell line.

The achievement was expected to open way to cure hard-totreat diseases by using patient-specific stem cells. However, it was found in late 2005 that his team had fabricated research data.

Because of the scandal, which was caused due to the successoriented social atmosphere, Hwang was expelled from the university, and studies on stem cells in Korea have not improved much since.

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