South Korean politician Kim Young Sam, the former leader of the now-banned New Democratic Party who is under house arrest in Seoul, said today that he has begun an "indefinite" hunger strike as a way of pressing for democratic reforms in South Korea.
In a statement released in Seoul, the one-time presidential contender said he wanted to protest the "dictatorial rule" of President Chun Doo Hwan and show sympathy for those involved in a bloody antigovernment uprising that took place in Kwanju in 1980.
According to sources in Seoul, Kim started his hunger strike at his home there Tuesday evening. The statement, addressed to the Korean people, said Kim had decided to fast to show his "determination to fight for the democratization of the nation."
Kim's action was apparently intended to coincide with the anniversary of the military crackdown that brought Chun and military colleagues to power in May 1980. Kim was first put under house arrest on May 17 of that year for a period of one year.
He was again confined to his home last June 1 following the publication of an interview in the foreign press in which he was quoted as criticizing the Chun government.
After the turmoil following the assassination of president Park Chung Hee in 1979, Kim was widely considered a possible presidential candidate along with dissident political leader Kim Dae Jung and former prime minster Kim Jong Pil.
In December, authorities released Kim Dae Jung from a 20-year prison sentence on charges of sedition and allowed him to go to the United States for medical treatment in a move widely regarded as virtual political exile.
In a statement released here today, Kim Young Sam said:
"I am entering this hunger strike to show that we must expand our fight for democracy, and only through a fight at the peril of one's life can we achieve democratization. If through the sacrifice of my life it would help bring about a democratic government, then I will happily submit to this final act of service."