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Anger and Sadness Punctuate Roh's Funeral

New America Media, News Report, Peter Schurmann Posted: May 29, 2009

SEOUL Fridays headline in Seouls Kyunghyang Newspaper quotes former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung announcing that the nations democracy is regressing, as up to one million people gather in the capital to mourn the death of his successor Roh Moo-hyun. Many blame the current leader.

The air is charged here as riot police have turned out in droves to contain the masses at the late leaders state funeral, the second highest ever to be given in South Korea. Enormous screens project the funeral proceedings for those unable to enter the grounds of the ancient Gyeongbok Palace, where the ceremony is being held.

A young man who wears a yellow ribbon around his neck in honor of Roh points at the police phalanxes that line Jongno, a major boulevard leading past City Hall to the gates of the palace. This is supposed to be a public funeral, he says, but obviously it isnt. Yellow was the color used during Rohs 2002 presidential campaign.

An officer squatting in the shade of a nearby alley puts the number of police dispatched in the tens of thousands, his face a mixture of fatigue and anxiety about the hours ahead. Many say mourners have held back their anger out of respect for the ceremony but warn of clashes once it ends.

Banners flying above the crowd read, Rest in Peace on one side, while on the other, Lee Myung-bak out! in reference to the new president.

Inside the palace Prime Minster Han Seung-soo, who was turned back days earlier by crowds of Roh supporters while visiting the late leaders rural residence, addresses a crowd of dignitaries and ordinary citizens. We have gathered here today to bid goodbye to former President Roh Moo-hyun who spent his life fighting for human rights, democracy and the destruction of authoritarianism a true peoples president.

Meanwhile, an opposition lawmaker verbally assaulted President Lee as he approached to lay a flower upon Rohs body. Youre a political murderer, shouted Baek Won-woo of the Democratic Party before being hauled out by security, according to Koreas Yonhap News Agency.

The succession of events that have transpired in recent days has been truly mind boggling, even for a nation long used to political and social crises. Minutes before the funeral commenced, reports emerged that Chinese fishing vessels off the peninsulas west coast were fleeing the area in expectation of a possible military clash with North Korea.

On the morning of Saturday, May 23, Roh, 62, who served as president from 2003 to 2008, leapt from a cliff above his rural home some 450 km southeast of Seoul. A number of questions surround the circumstances of his death, including conflicting statements by a security detail with Roh at the time of his death, suspicions that have only fueled a sense of insecurity and anger here.

As news of the tragedy spread, with citizens across the country turning out to express their grief and shock, North Korea conducted a nuclear test followed by several test firings of short-range missiles. Then it announced that it was scrapping an armistice agreement signed at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War after Seoul made public its decision to join a U.S.-led anti-proliferation campaign largely known to target the North.

Yet despite the chilly northerly winds, the gathering storm here seems focused more on Rohs death and the responsibility born by the current Lee Myung-bak government. A wreath sent in Lees name to Bongha Village, where Roh had taken up farming after retiring from office, was destroyed by the late leaders supporters.

Lee, who took office in February 2008 from an embattled and at the time unpopular Roh, overturned many of his predecessors policies, including generous aid to the North. He has also presided over a string of controversies involving police crackdowns of public protests, starting with last summers anti-U.S. beef rallies and, more recently, the death of several squatters at the hands of a police swat team in January.

In the weeks leading to Rohs death, state prosecutors had stepped up their investigation into allegations that Roh had received $6 million in bribes from a local businessman. The probe, which culminated in an unprecedented 10-hour grilling of Roh, was widely perceived to be politically motivated by Lees government.

These and other incidents have fed into a growing sense that South Korea is seeing a more draconian style of leadership under Lee, who fashioned himself after the countrys first military ruler Park Cheong-hee. Park helped transform South Korea from an East Asian backwater to a global economic powerhouse, though at the cost of political freedom.

Related Articles:

'It Wasn't Suicide' Korean Mourners Say

Roh's death haunts Lee Myung-bak

Roh's suicide stuns South Korea

Trust In Short Supply in Korea

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