Commemoration of Roh’s death sees record numbers

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Commemoration of Roh’s death sees record numbers

A record number of people are expected to visit Bongha Village in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang, today to commemorate the 8th anniversary of the death of former President Roh Moo-hyun as his lifelong confidant, nicknamed “Roh’s Last Standing Chief of Staff,” will be in the crowd as Korea’s 19th president.

Bongha Village is the late president’s hometown, where he returned later after serving his single five-year term. But Roh’s retirement did not last long. He became embroiled in a bribery scandal implicating his family members and committed suicide on May 23, 2009, 24 days after being questioned by prosecutors and 15 months after his homecoming from the Blue House.

Roh is laid to rest at Bongha Village, some 350 kilometers (210 miles) south of Seoul.

On May 23 every year, the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation hosts a ceremony in remembrance of the president, who was known and respected for his straightforward manner and progressive policies.

And this year’s ceremony will certainly stand out from past ones since President Moon Jae-in, whose relationship with the former president dated back to the early 1980s, will attend the ceremony and deliver a commemorative speech as Roh’s successor.

During his campaign, Moon promised repeatedly that he would pay respect before Roh’s gravestone on May 23 as president. Moon also pledged to complete unfinished policy agenda from the Roh Moo-hyun government, for which he was presidential chief of staff.

When a JoonAng Ilbo reporter visited the Bongha Village on Monday, many banners were hung welcoming the new president and touching on his personal history with the late president. “We welcome you, Moon, friend of Roh,” one banner said. Another banner said, “We hope you finish the dreams of former President Roh!”

Many of Roh’s supporters to this day believe the investigation into Roh’s family on bribery allegations was politically motivated by former President Lee Myung-bak, who succeeded Roh in 2008.

Visitors were already packing the small town, with parking lots full of vehicles on Monday, as the mood was rather celebratory.

“I was in high school when President Roh passed away in 2009 and this is my first visit here today,” said Kim Tae-un, 26, who came from Goyang, Gyeonggi. “Touring here in Bongha Village and seeing Roh’s residence got me overwhelmed with emotion. I didn’t really know about him beforehand, but seeing traces of his legacy here, I cannot help but feel deeply sorry that we don’t have him with us anymore.”

Yoon Ji-hyuk, 36, who is from Miryang, South Gyeongsang, said his visit this time carried a “deeper meaning” since Moon Jae-in is now in power. “I hope his administration will push through Roh’s unfinished agenda of breaking apart regionalism and forging national unity and open dialogue.”

Oh Sang-ho, director of the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation, the commemoration organizer, told the JoongAng Ilbo that people’s mood this year was much more upbeat than in past years due to Moon’s triumph on May 9.

An estimated 35,000 people visited Roh’s hometown over the weekend, two to three times more than usual, according to the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation.

The commemoration at Bongha Village, attended by Moon and political leaders across the ideological spectrum, will begin at 2 p.m. today.

BY WEE SUNG-WOOK, KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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