Political leaders to attend funeral

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Political leaders to attend funeral

Politicians and leaders from rival camps are set to attend the funeral for former first lady Lee Hee-ho today, whose passing on Monday temporarily brought together a fractured political establishment in condolence.

Hundreds of current and former government officials, politicians and civic leaders lined up from Tuesday to pay their respects at Lee’s funeral altar at Severance Hospital in Sinchon, western Seoul. The former first lady, who died late Monday evening at the age of 96, was a pioneer in advancing women’s rights, a democracy activist and a strong proponent of inter-Korean reconciliation, following in the footsteps of her late husband, former President Kim Dae-jung.

Other notable guests who visited Lee’s altar included the families of other South Korean presidents, like the second son of the late former President Kim Yong-sam, a lifelong political rival to Kim Dae-jung’s who shared a complicated relationship with him. Lee Soon-ja, the wife of former President Chun Doo Hwan, also paid her respects to Lee in a poignant moment, since her husband imprisoned and almost executed Kim Dae-jung after taking power in a military coup in 1980. At the time, Lee mounted an international campaign to rescue her husband, even sending a personal letter to then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter asking for his support.

On Thursday, the government finalized a funeral preparation committee consisting of around 3,300 members, including all representatives of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and Party for Democracy and Peace (PDP).

The committee’s executive officer, Kim Dae Jung Peace Center Director Kim Sung-jae, said Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, former acting Prime Minister Chang Sang and PDP senior adviser Kwon Rho-kap would chair the committee, while the leaders of five political parties, including the conservative main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) and minor Bareunmirae Party, would serve as advisers.

All lawmakers from four parties are set to attend Lee’s funeral procession on Friday, which will begin at the hospital and include a funeral ceremony at the Changcheon Methodist Church in Sinchon, where Lee attended services throughout her life. The conservative LKP, whose predecessors fiercely opposed former President Kim’s conciliatory approach toward North Korea, chose to just send over a dozen members of its floor leadership. The procession will then head to Seoul National Cemetery, where the former first lady will be interred alongside her husband. According to Kim Hong-gul, Lee and Kim Dae-jung’s youngest son, Lee’s funeral committee was drawn up to include a wide variety of civic leaders of all stripes to pay respects to her efforts to fight for democracy and the advancement of women’s rights.

Lee’s work to promote inter-Korean reconciliation to continue her husband’s legacy was also acknowledged by North Korea, which sent flowers and a letter of condolence via North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, on Wednesday through the border village of Panmunjom.

While many in the South were disappointed with Pyongyang’s decision to dispatch a mourning delegation to Panmunjom instead of her funeral altar in Seoul, Kim Hong-gul thanked the North for expressing condolences and said he understood the political and diplomatic constraints that prevented other possibilities.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]
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