SOUTH KOREANS remain shocked by the death of six riot policemen in clashes Wednesday with radical students. The incident has generated enormous sympathy for the police, Seoul-based observers say, and support for a government crackdown on violent protest by students, workers, and others. But it has also heightened fears that right-wing political forces will use the event to carry out a broad crackdown on left-wing dissent.
The riot police died trying to free five policemen held hostage by student protesters at Dongui University in the industrial city of Pusan. When police carried out a dawn raid, students set fire to barricades on the seventh floor of the library building. The six victims died trying to escape the flames.
According to Western diplomatic sources in Seoul, people have been moved to tears by graphic television accounts of the incident.
In a TV speech Wednesday night, President Roh Tae Woo blamed the incident on ``violent revolutionaries who indulge in murder, arson, kidnapping, and destruction with the goal of overthrowing our democratic society.'' He said, ``Those who pull the strings behind the scenes will be ferreted out by all means, regardless of whether they are located on campuses, in workplaces, or anywhere else.''
The government stopped short of any declaration of martial law or lesser measures abridging rights, although Mr. Roh said if violence continued, ``I will have to consider invoking emergency powers.''
The three major opposition parties have joined in condemning the radicals' violence and in supporting government plans to pass new legislation soon to control use of firebombs and similar acts. But they also warned against any abuse of emergency powers.
There are opposition concerns that ultra-right-wing elements in the government, including the central intelligence agency, might seek to act against anti-government dissidents, even in the opposition parties.
According to a Western diplomat in Seoul, however, both public opinion and the media ``continue to make a distinction between violence and dissidence.'' The security agencies, the diplomat observes, have a ``carte blanche to go after the violent guys,'' but not after those who simply espouse radical ideas.