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S. Korea bids farewell to ex-president Kim Dae-jung

SOUTH Koreans bid farewell to former President Kim Dae-jung at the state funeral held for him at the National Assembly today.

The service, starting at 02:00 pm (0500 GMT), marks the second "state funeral" held in the nation, following that of former President Park Chung-hee.

A state funeral is the highest form of tributes given in the nation, for which the government covers the full expense.

Some 30,000 people gathered at the nation's parliament to attend the service, the largest crowd ever, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported.

Among the attendees were South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, First Lady Kim Yoon-ok, and former President Kim Young-sam, as well as politicians and foreign delegates.

The service started as the funeral car proceeded into the site at around 1:50 pm (0450 GMT).

Giving a eulogy, Prime Minister Han praised the late president, calling him "a great leader of modern history, recognized not only within (South) Korea but by the world."

The service, which came after a six-day mourning period, lasted about an hour after various ceremonies, including religious rituals, were given to commemorate the ex-president.

Kim died of pneumonia-related complications on Tuesday after he was admitted to a Seoul hospital on July 13.

President Lee Myung-bak called him a "great political leader" while paying a condolatory visit to Kim earlier.

"His work and desire for democracy and national reconciliation will be remembered by the people for years to come," Lee was quoted as saying.

Expressing his sadness by the passing of Kim, U.S. President Barack Obama said Kim "played a crucial role in establishing a dynamic democratic system in the Republic of Korea."

Meanwhile, North Korea top leader Kim Jong-il also mourned over Kim's death, sending a condolatory delegation made up of his close aides on Friday.

The six-member delegates, after paying respect to the late leader at the memorial altar, also met with South Korean President during their three-day stay.

North Korea's Kim and ex-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung held the first-ever inter-Korean summit talks in Pyongyang in 2000, in pursuit of opening an era of reconciliation and cooperation between the two sides.

After the hour-long funeral service, the motorcade carrying the coffin of the late president headed for the Seoul National Cemetery in southern Seoul.

The funeral car is scheduled to make short stopovers at his private home in Donggyo-dong, western Seoul, and the Seoul Plaza in front of the Seoul City Hall.

South Korea's main opposition Democratic Party (DP), meanwhile, is in preparation of holding an event at the Seoul Plaza late today to commemorate the late president, DP spokesman Woo Sang-ho said.


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