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S. Korea opposition: rising support brings rare display of unity

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The South Korean political opposition has suddenly sprung to life again. After a year marked by frustrating defeats and internal divisions, it is now riding a powerful groundswell of support for democratic reform. This new vigor is the result of a fresh appeal to the roots of its strength: ordinary South Koreans.

The latest display of their support came Sunday in the city of Kwangju, where more than 50,000 people showed up at a mass rally for constitutional reform, according to independent observers. (The government maintains that the figure was much lower, while rally organizers put the turnout at more than 100,000.)

In the space of little more than a month, the campaign for democratic reform of the Constitution has galvanized the opposition, while nearly immobilizing the government's ability to thwart the movement.

The campaign has taken the form of a petition drive calling for constitutional revision. The opposition wants to scrap the system of voting for president through a 5,000-man electoral college, which the opposition says can be manipulated by the government. Instead, the opposition wants to hold a new, direct presidential election by the fall of 1987.

The drive has turned into a unifying force for all the disparate elements of the opposition.

``It is true that we have our political differences,'' says Hong Nam Soon, an elderly lawyer in Kwangju, who has become a grandfather figure for the movement. ``But we can all agree on the signature campaign.''

One political group after another, from the Union of Catholic Farmers to student federations, has expressed support, and they are beginning to form regional and national coalitions.

The Roman Catholic Church now supports the movement, as do influential Protestant organizations, including the National Council of Churches.


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