Visitors flock to village to mourn Roh’s death

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Visitors flock to village to mourn Roh’s death

GIMHAE, South Gyeongsang - Yesterday afternoon in the village of Bongha, policemen blocked a 40-something man when he tried to lay a white chrysanthemum on former President Roh Moo-hyun’s grave. “We came all way down here from Seoul because we can’t forget him … it’s tragic that we can’t see his tomb,” the man’s wife said, weeping.

But the police wouldn’t budge, saying the boundaries of Roh’s tomb would not be opened to the public until tomorrow.

Instead, the couple laid their flowers on a makeshift mourning altar adjacent to Roh’s grave site, and bowed deeply to the late president. Flower baskets dedicated by other visitors were heaped up beside the altar, on which a small picture of Roh stood.

Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of the death of the former president, who killed himself by jumping off a cliff weeks after prosecutors began an investigation into allegations that he and his family received at least $5 million from Taekwang Industrial.

And by yesterday his hometown, Bongha in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang, was packed with visitors who had come from all across the country to pay their respects.

Kim Gyeong-su, Roh’s former secretary and secretary general of his Bongha Foundation, said there are so many visitors it’s hard to even pass on the walkways of the village.

“Over 4 million people have visited Bongha since Roh moved back in February 2008,” Kim said, and their number surged this month. Kim said between 2,000 and 3,000 people came to the village on weekdays, and the number of mourners rose to more than 5,000 on weekends.

The unexpected crowd of visitors has attracted the watchful eyes of political observers, who wonder whether the visits by Roh’s sympathizers will influence the June 2 local elections.

Roh’s grave site, which was opened to the press on Wednesday, measures 3,206 square meters (34,509 square feet) and is shaped in an isosceles triangle. The boundaries of his tomb, funded with donations from his supporters, were completed this month after six months of construction. More than 38,000 granite stones line the tomb, each engraved with a message that mourns his death. One from former President Kim Dae-jung, written by his widow, Lee Hee-ho, reads: “I feel like half of my body collapsed.”

The graveside memorial service for Roh begins at 2 p.m. tomorrow and will be presided over by popular comedian Kim Jae-dong. Performances, a video clip and a memorial address and speech by a representative of Roh’s family are all scheduled. A pre-service memorial mass will be held at 11 a.m. at Jeongtowon, a Buddhist temple where Roh’s ashes had been kept.

The Roh Moo-hyun Foundation said on Thursday that another ceremony to remember his death will be held in Seoul Plaza tomorrow night at 7.

By Kim Mi-ju, Hwang Sun-yoon []

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