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August 20, 2009

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Funeral for Kim may open dialogue

NORTH Korea's leader sent condolences to South Korea yesterday following the death of former President Kim Dae-jung and proposed dispatching a delegation to honor a man whose unflagging fight for democracy and reconciliation earned him the title "Nelson Mandela of Asia."

In central Seoul, mourners bowed before a huge portrait of Kim adorned with white chrysanthemums, the traditional flower of death. Many wiped away tears.

"We will always remember you," read a message scrawled in a condolence book. "Rest in peace - now we will defend Korea's democracy."

Kim, who won the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to foster reconciliation with North Korea, died on Tuesday at age 85. His death unleashed an outpouring of grief across South Korea and drew condolences from Paris to Pyongyang.

"The feats he performed to achieve national reconciliation and realize the desire for reunification will remain long with the nation," North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency quoted leader Kim Jong Il as saying.

Kim will be honored with a state funeral at the National Assembly and laid to rest at a cemetery in southern Seoul on Sunday.

North Korea wants to send about five officials to Seoul to pay their respects, said Kim Dae-jung's former aide, lawmaker Park Jie-won.

The South Korean government was considering whether to allow the visit, said Lee Jong-joo, a spokeswoman for the Unification Ministry, which handles North Korean affairs. The rare visit could offer a chance for dialogue to improve relations between the two Koreas.


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