SEOUL: South Korea's President Moon Jae-in honoured the victims of the pro-democracy Gwangju Uprising on Monday (May 18), speaking at the spot where protestors were killed 40 years ago.
Demonstrators protesting against military dictator Chun Doo-hwan confronted his martial law troops on May 18, 1980.
Official bodies point to around 160 dead over the next 10 days – including some soldiers and police – and more than 70 missing, but activists say up to three times as many may have been killed.
Those who died, Moon said "believed that those who will remain will open up a better world. They were convinced that today's defeat will turn to tomorrow's victory".
"Those who survived fought for democracy to fulfil the yearnings of the dead."
But Gwangju remains one of the most politicised historical events in a heavily polarised country.
Some conservatives in the South continue to condemn the uprising as a Communist-inspired rebellion, while the left-leaning Moon – who participated in other anti-dictatorship protests – has reopened investigations into the military's actions, including an alleged helicopter shooting incident.
Chun, who was convicted in 1996 of treason over Gwangju and condemned to death but released following a presidential pardon, remains hugely divisive and still denies any direct involvement in the suppression of the movement.
Moon has regularly highlighted Gwangju, and on Monday reiterated his call for it to be included in the country's constitution.