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State funeral for Roh in Seoul
Thousands throng South Korean capital to mourn death of former president.
Last Modified: 29 May 2009 05:25 GMT

Roh Moo-hyun's suicide has shocked South Korea at a time of rising tensions with the North [EPA]

Tens of thousands of mourners have lined the streets of the South Korean capital for the state funeral of Roh Moo-hyun, the country's former president, who committed suicide last weekend while being investigated for corruption.

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 Obituary: Roh Moo-Hyun
 Video: Death of S Korea's ex-president

Roh's funeral on Friday was being held amid tight security, with about 15,000 riot police deployed in central Seoul amid fears that a national outpouring of grief would spark anti-government demonstrations.

Roh, 62, leapt to his death from a clifftop near his hometown last Saturday, leaving a note saying "the rest of my life would only be a burden for others".

The funeral comes at a time of heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula, with North Korea threatening war following a nuclear test and a series of missile launches early this week.

Just before carrying out the underground nuclear test on Monday, Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, had sent his condolences to Roh's family.

Roh, whose five-year term ended in February of 2008, had pushed for reconciliation with the North and travelled to Pyongyang in 2007 for a summit with Kim.

Bribes investigation

Mourners turned central Seoul into a sea of yellow, Roh's campaign colour [Reuters]
The former president was being investigated over claims he and his family accepted $6m in bribes during his tenure.

He never admitted personal wrongdoing but had apologised on his family's behalf.

Earlier on Friday morning the convoy bearing Roh's body left his home village of Bongha for the five-hour journey to Seoul and a state funeral in the courtyard of the stately 14th-century Gyeongbok Palace.

Mourners shedding tears and carrying banners of a smiling Roh gathered in the palace for the ceremony, which was also attended by Lee Myung-bak, the South Korean president, and former leaders Kim Dae-Jung and Kim Young-Sam.

"None of us can bear the sorrow and grief as we bid our last farewell to [him]. We are so heavy-hearted," Han Seung-soo, the South Korean prime minister, said as the funeral began.

The city was awash in yellow, Roh's campaign colour. Yellow balloons were tied to trees lining the boulevard in front of the palace, and mourners watched the funeral from large monitors set up across the city.

Many mourners wore yellow paper hats or waved yellow handkerchiefs, while some held signs saying: "You will be my president forever."

Multi-faith ceremony

South Korean leaders attended the ceremony held in an ancient palace courtyard [AFP]
Inside the ancient courtyard, a 2.5m tall portrait of Roh was placed at the altar in a bed of one million chrysanthemums laid in the shape of a Rose of Sharon, South Korea's national flower.

The ceremony's organising committee said as of Thursday morning, some three million people had paid tribute at altars across the country, including one million who visited the former leader's home village of Bongha.

Buddhist monks and Catholic nuns chanted prayers as part of the multi-faith ceremony reflective of South Korea's complicated modern history, where Confucian mourning traditions mix with Christian and Buddhist rites.

"We came to pray for his soul," a Catholic nun waiting outside the palace in Seoul told South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

"I barely slept last night. Too many thoughts crossed my mind and I was overtaken by emotions."

Roh pushed for reconciliation with North Korea in a bid for peace on the peninsula [Reuters]
Roh's body is to be cremated and the ashes taken back for burial near Bongha.

The suicide stunned the nation of 49 million, where the outspoken and anti-establishment Roh had become a favourite among many young South Koreans.

"I'm very sad because South Korea's best political figure has died, and I could not protect him during his era," Kim Jin-ah, a college student, said.

Though many were critical of his policies, others rallied around his efforts to promote democracy, fight corruption and facilitate rapprochement with North Korea.

On Thursday Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, paid tribute at South Korea's  embassy in Washington, saying both countries shared Roh's "dedication to democracy and human rights are values". 

Source:
Agencies
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