The June Democracy Movement

During the nation-wide June Democracy Movement from June 10 to 29, 1987, mass demonstrations were held in cities throughout South Korea, which called first and foremeost for more democracy and the holding of free elections. Although there had already been clashes between student activists and the regime for some time, these intensified considerably after the death of a student: on June 9, on Yonsei University campus Lee Han-yeol was hit in the head by a teargas grenade that penetrated his skull – he fell into a coma and died of his wounds a few weeks later. On the following day, June 10, when the outgoing president Chun Doo-hwan announced his successor Roh Tae-woo, the situation escalated and climaxed in the so-called “H-Hour.” Over five thousand students gathered near the city hall in Seoul; police reaction was swift and violent. Across the entire country there were massive demonstrations with an estimated 240,000 participants, composed of people from all social strata. In the following wave of demonstrations on June 18, around 1.5 million protesters in at least sixteen South Korean cities took to the streets. As a reaction to the firing of teargas and baton charges, demonstrators reacted by throwing rolls of toilet paper, with applause, and the chanting of slogans. On June 29, Tae-woo bowed to the demands of the people for changes to the constitution, and on December 13 the first democratic elections took place.