Former South Korean President Roh Tae-woo, a major player in a 1979 coup who later became president in a landmark democratic election before ending his tumultuous political career in prison, died in hospital on Tuesday in the capital of Seoul. He was 88.

Roh, who ruled South Korea as president from 1988-1993, died of complications from various illnesses after his condition worsened while dealing with a degenerative disorder, Kim Yon-su, head of Seoul National University Hospital, told a news conference.

Roh was a key participant in the December 1979 military coup that made his army friend and coup leader Chun Doo-hwan president after their mentor, dictator Park Chung-hee, was assassinated following 18 years of rule.Roh led his army division into Seoul and joined other military leaders for operations to seize the capital.

South Korea was then deeply anti-communist because of its rivalry with North Korea, but under Roh it opened diplomatic relations with a communist nation for the first time Hungary in 1989, the year when the Berlin Wall fell and communism crumbled across Eastern Europe.

Earlier, Roh oversaw the hosting of the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, the final Olympics of the Cold War era that showed how South Korea had rebuilt itself from the ashes of the 1950-53 Korean War. North Korea boycotted the 1988 games.

The Supreme Court reduced those sentences to life imprisonment for Chun and 17 years for Roh. After spending about two years in prison, both Roh and Chun were released in late 1997 under a special pardon requested by then President-elect Kim Dae-jung, who sought national reconciliation amid an Asian financial crisis.

Roh had stayed mostly out of the public eye following his release from prison, refraining from political activities and speeches. In recent years, he suffered prostate cancer, asthma, cerebellar atrophy and other health problems.

Roh’s son, Roh Jae-heon, repeatedly offered an apology over the 1980 crackdowns and visited a Gwangju cemetery to pay respects to the victims buried there on behalf of his bed-ridden father.

Chun left the court after 20 minutes, complaining of breathing problems. In his memoir, Chun called the priest “a shameless liar.”

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