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Thousands pay tribute to S. Korea's ex-leader

BOWING deeply and laying white chrysanthemums before his portrait, tens of thousands of mourners yesterday traveled to the southern village where former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun killed himself by jumping from a cliff overlooking his home.

But several top officials, including the prime minister, were turned away from the mourning rites for the ex-leader. Mourners pelted a bus carrying conservative politicians with eggs and doused lawmakers with water.

The 62-year-old Roh, who relied on pluck and hard work to rise from his impoverished youth in rural Gimhae to become president in 2003, died on Saturday after jumping from a promontory known as Owl's Rock.

He left behind a note describing his suffering over corruption allegations and asking to be cremated.

The government and Roh's family agreed to hold a public "people's funeral," most likely on Friday, former Roh aide Han Hyung-min said.

Roh's suicide, just 15 months after he left office, came as he and his family faced intense questioning about US$6 million given to the Rohs during his presidency by a Seoul businessman implicated in a number of bribery scandals.


The allegations weighed heavily on a man who prided himself on his "clean" record in a country struggling to shake off a tradition of corruption. Prosecutors had been grilling Roh, his wife and their two children since April.

"What's left for me for the rest of my life is just to be a burden to others," Roh wrote in a note on his computer minutes before leaving for the final hike to Owl's Rock with a security guard.

"Don't be too sad. Aren't life and death both part of nature? Don't feel sorry. Don't blame anybody. It's destiny," the note said.

Braving a downpour yesterday, nearly 80,000 people trekked to Bongha, the village 450 kilometers south of Seoul where Roh had lived since leaving office, to pay their respects, police said. Hundreds of Buddhist monks in gray robes and wide-brimmed hats held a prayer service.

But not all visitors were welcomed. Roh supporters accuse South Korea's conservative right, led by President Lee Myung-bak and the Grand National Party, of pushing the corruption probe believed to have driven Roh to despair.

Prime Minister Han Seung-soo was turned away. Roh backers hurled eggs at a bus carrying Lee Hoi-chang, the conservative who lost the presidential election to Roh in 2002.

Supporters also reviled National Assembly Speaker Kim Hyong-o, dousing him with water.


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