PUSAN, SOUTH KOREA, NOV. 1 -- Kim Dae Jung, taking his presidential campaign to the political heartland of his opposition rival Kim Young Sam, today accused the government of aggravating regional tensions in South Korea.
"From now on, don't even talk about regionalism," Kim Dae Jung told a cheering crowd of hundreds of thousands during an hour-long speech. He urged them to overcome what he claims is a bitter legacy of government attempts to play one region off another.
Kim Dae Jung is the favorite son of North and South Cholla provinces, in the southwest, while Kim Young Sam is the favorite in neighboring North and South Kyongsang provinces, in the southeast. Rivalries between natives of the two provinces are intense. It has been feared that the December election, the first direct presidential contest in South Korea since 1971, may be characterized by sharp regional tensions and voting strictly along regional lines.
"If you want to vote for me, do so only on the basis of my qualifications. You should vote for a candidate solely because of his abilities, not because of where he comes from," Kim said. He offered to make a joint tour with Kim Young Sam of both provinces.
Wearing dark Korean dress and drawing roars of approval from the crowd, Kim Dae Jung delivered the conciliatory message during his first campaign rally in Pusan, the capital of Kyongsang and Kim Young Sam's political stronghold. Today's rally in this rough port city was held in the same park where Kim Young Sam staged a massive homecoming two weeks ago. Although the crowd today was, at best, half of what Kim Young Sam drew, the turnout was nonetheless strong given that Pusan is regarded as hostile territory for Kim Dae Jung.
But the enthusiastic turnout was marred by incidents that reflected the intense competition and regional split between the two Kims, whose political marriage of convenience formally broke down last week. Several hundred Kim Young Sam supporters staged a counterdemonstration on the fringes of Kim Dae Jung's rally, although their chants were too distant to interrupt the dissident leader. They were blocked from entering the rally area.
In another incident, a youth threw a bottle at the lectern where Kim Dae Jung was speaking. Although aides to Kim Dae Jung said the youth may have been aiming at photographers blocking his view, he was beaten by members of the crowd, who apparently suspected him of being a Kim Young Sam supporter. Security officials took him away.
After the afternoon rally, several hundred demonstrators gathered outside Kim's hotel hurling stones and wielding wooden staves. Several of his aides were injured, though none seriously, a spokesman said.
The emphasis on rally turnouts seems outdated by most political standards, but the publication of public opinion polls on the presidential race is forbidden, so comparative crowd sizes are being used as yardsticks of popularity.
For the two Kims, the rally fever is all-important: both are declared candidates seeking the support of the same pool of opposition voters. Each one hopes to create a popularity bandwagon in the next few weeks, forcing the other to drop out of the race so that the opposition will be united against Roh Tae Woo, the ruling party candidate.
Part of the reason for today's turnout stems from the fact that about a quarter of the city's population originally hails from economically disadvantaged Cholla. The Cholla natives migrate to wealthier Kyongsang in search of work, but many retain their provincial loyalties, including a near-fanatical devotion to Kim Dae Jung. Only a handful of Kyongsang natives live in Cholla.