중앙데일리

Outpouring of sympathy after Roh’s suicide

May 25,2009
A mourner weeps at an altar for the late former President Roh Moo-hyun yesterday in Bongha Village, Gimhae, South Gyeongsang. [YONHAP]
Korea’s political leaders set aside ideological differences over the weekend to express their condolences for the death of former President Roh Moo-hyun, joining a slew of prominent politicians, religious leaders and ordinary citizens from around the world who expressed shock and grief over his suicide.

The ruling Grand National Party said it is deeply saddened by Roh’s passing and offered sympathy to his family. The party’s floor leader, Ahn Sang-soo - who received judicial apprentice training with Roh - called himself “a friend” of the late president, while former GNP chairwoman Park Geun-hye posted a tribute on her personal and official Internet homepage.

The main opposition Democratic Party, Roh’s political home, spoke of shock and sorrow over the suicide. In a veiled criticism of prosecutors’ investigation of Roh on bribery allegations, DP spokeswoman Kim Yoo-jung said in a statement that “the Korean people and history will know who and what led to the tragic end of the former president’s life.” Other opposition parties chimed in as well.

“Although Roh has disappointed the people with his alleged role in the Park Yeon-cha [bribery] scandal, Roh has done significant work as our former president,” Park Sun-young, spokeswoman for the conservative Liberty Forward Party. The Democratic Labor Party also noted the recent investigation on Roh, but spokesman Woo Wi-young added that “there are still some positive things” from his career.

Former presidents Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam also expressed grief over Roh’s death. Kim Dae-jung, who was the president immediately preceding Roh, said, “I felt like half of my body collapsed” upon hearing the news, according to his secretary, Choi Gyeong-hwan. “We’ve been on the same boat for 10 years and that makes it that much more shocking,” Choi quoted Kim Dae-jung saying.

The relationship between Roh and Kim Young-sam, who was president from 1993 to 1998, goes back more than 20 years. In 1988, Kim Young-sam ushered Roh into party politics by nominating him to the then-Unification Democratic Party before the general elections. According to Kim’s secretary, Kim Ki-soo, Kim said Roh’s suicide “was a very shocking and unfortunate event.”

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, sent his condolences yesterday. Ban, who served as Korea’s foreign minister during the Roh administration, said he was “shocked and devastated” by the news.

“I’d like to pay tribute to President Roh, who dedicated himself to the democratization of Korea and to building an advanced society,” Ban said in a statement. “I am sending my thoughts and prayers from afar.”

Among the leaders of Korea’s allies, U.S. President Barack Obama said he was “saddened” by the news of Roh’s death and paid tribute to Roh’s efforts to improve Korea-U.S. relations.

“President Roh contributed to the strong and vital relationship between the United States and the Republic of Korea,” Obama said in a statement.

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso said on Saturday he was “quite surprised” by the news and said he’d like to “pray for the repose of his soul.”

People from across the globe flooded cyberspace with tributes and, in some cases, criticism of the Lee Myung-bak administration and even of Roh himself. On Agora, an online discussion forum operated by the portal site Daum, more than 140,000 visitors had posted their condolences as of 2 p.m. yesterday. Some people, in written responses to online news articles, accused the current government of driving Roh to his death with its unrelenting investigation into bribery charges. Others urged Roh’s supporters to respond to the suicide in a calm, rational way, while several took aim at Roh, saying that committing suicide is an irresponsible act for a former president.

Roh’s death sent shock waves among overseas Korean communities. Leaders from Korean communities in countries including the U.S., Japan, China, Russia and France said they were saddened and some were devastated by the news.

At the same time, Korea’s religious leaders were united in their grief over Roh’s death. The National Council of Churches in Korea, a body representing Christian churches in Korea, said it hoped Roh’s role in achieving the democracy and human rights that he helped foster will be remembered in the future. Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk said he prays for the “everlasting repose of the late president’s soul.”

The Jogye Order, the largest Buddhist sect in the nation, lamented the loss of the former president “who dedicated his life to the democratic movement and who, while in office, fought to improve democracy and also the rights and interests of the Korean people.”


By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]



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