SEOUL, Feb. 18 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in expressed rare anger Monday at opposition lawmakers who recently came under the spotlight for making false claims about a pro-democracy movement that ended in a bloody crackdown by the then military government, saying the lawmakers should be "ashamed."
The president's remarks came after three members of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) renewed the decades old accusation that the 1980 movement in Gwangju may have been masterminded and executed by special North Korean forces in a recent public hearing they co-hosted.
The claim prompted strong and emotional reactions from the people in Gwangju, located some 330 kilometers south of Seoul, where at least 200 people were killed in the military crackdown of the 1980 movement.
"Certain members of the National Assembly and the political circle now distorting and disparaging the May 18 democratization movement by claiming that it was a riot or North Korean forces were then sent to the South is an act of denying the history of our democratization and the Constitution," the president said in a weekly meeting with his aides held at his office Cheong Wa Dae.
President Moon Jae-in (R) speaks in a weekly meeting with his senior secretaries and aides held at his office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Feb. 18, 2019. (Yonhap)
"It is an act that in the end will damage our democracy and destroy the foundation of our nation," he added.
Amid the public uproar, the LKP expelled one of the three lawmakers, Lee Jong-myeong, but has put off decisions on Kim Jin-tae and Kim Soon-rye, mainly citing their participation in the ongoing election for party leadership.
The ruling Democratic Party and other opposition parties have submitted a joint motion to the parliamentary ethics committee, seeking to strip all three LKP members of their parliamentary seats.
The claimed involvement of North Korean forces in the 1980 movement had been around as an urban legend, but it has been determined, and even ruled by courts, as false time after time.
Moon noted the 1980 movement in Gwangju has repeatedly been recognized as a pro-democracy movement by the former conservative administration of what is now the LKP.
"And in 1997, May 18 was designated as a national memorial day and every administration has since held national ceremonies on that day while announcing their succession of the spirit of the May 18 democracy movement," he said, according to Cheong Wa Dae pool reports.
The president said the freedom of speech and expression must be guaranteed as provided by the Constitution.
"But the freedom of speech and tolerance cannot be allowed even to claims and acts that destroy democracy," he said.
"I ask the people to sternly reject any attempt to secure political gains by causing division and hatred."