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August 24, 2009

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Citizens, dignitaries bid teary farewell to 'Mr Sunshine' Kim

TENS of thousands of mourners filled the lawn outside Seoul's parliament for the state funeral yesterday of South Korea's former President Kim Dae-jung.

Kim was a longtime defender of democracy and advocate of reconciliation who won the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to reach out to North Korea.

Though best known abroad for his initiatives with North Korea, Kim was beloved at home for devoting his life to the fight for democracy during South Korea's early years of authoritarian rule.

"Farewell, Mr Sunshine: Without you, we could have never known true democracy," read yellow placards held by mourners who gathered in central Seoul to watch a broadcast of his funeral.

"We love you, Mr President Kim Dae-jung. We will not forget you," read one banner outside the National Assembly. Yellow ribbons and balloons lined the street leading to the parliament.

Passionate leader

Memorials nationwide for the man dubbed the "Nelson Mandela of Asia" for his lifelong struggle for democracy drew about 700,000 people, the government said.

His solemn funeral was the first held at the National Assembly, where Kim - who endured torture, death threats and imprisonment during his decades as a dissident - triumphantly took the oath of office as president in 1998.

South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo praised Kim as a passionate leader who dedicated his life to democracy, human rights, peace and reconciliation. He also recalled Kim's resilience.

"Today we are overwhelmed with heartbreaking grief and sorrow. The whole of Korea is truly overcome with great sadness," Han said at the multi-faith ceremony held under a blistering sun.

Kim's widow, Lee Hee-ho, bowed deeply before a portrait of her late husband.

President Lee Myung-Bak, former presidents and foreign leaders who were among the more than 20,000 who attended the funeral also paid their respects at the altar.

Another 14,000 mourners gathered outside City Hall, according to police.

"We have lost someone who devoted his entire life to peace, democracy and, ultimately, us," Lee Eun-ah, 35, said tearfully.

Kim was buried later yesterday at the national cemetery in Seoul, a blanket knitted by his wife and a Bible tucked into his coffin.


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