Published January 14, 2015
Thousands streamed to a village in rural South Korea on Sunday to pay their respects to ex-President Roh Moo-hyun a day after he killed himself by jumping off a rocky cliff overlooking his home.
In central Seoul, mourners laid white chrysanthemums — a traditional Korean symbol of grief — and bowed before a portrait of the 62-year-old ex-leader at a makeshift memorial outside the 16th-century Deoksu Palace.
Roh, who relied on pluck and hard work to rise from his impoverished youth in rural Gimhae to become leader of this nation of 49 million in 2003, died Saturday morning. He left behind a note describing his suffering and asking to be cremated.
His suicide, just 15 months after he left office, came as he and his family faced intense questioning about $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 a cultural tradition of corruption.
Prosecutors grilled him for hours three weeks ago, and said Roh denied the bribery allegations. They were to announce soon whether they would seek his arrest.
"What's left for me for the rest of my life is just to be a burden to others," Roh wrote in the note found on his computer. "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."
His death stunned the nation. South Koreans were glued to TV monitors across the country. Many snapped up special newspaper editions about Roh. Tens of thousands flooded his Web site, posting condolences.
"Roh's life — fraught with challenge and glory and disgrace — ended like this. We pray for Roh's soul," the conservative Chosun Ilbo newspaper said in an editorial Sunday. The paper, which had an uneasy relationship with Roh, had called for a thorough investigation of the liberal ex-leader.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, said he was "shocked and deeply saddened."
"I pay tribute to the late President Roh, who exerted tireless efforts to promote democracy, undertake various reform measures and paved the way for building an advanced society in Korea," Ban said in a statement Sunday. "May he rest in peace."
The Roh family has agreed with the government to hold a "people's funeral" for the late president after a seven-day mourning period, the Yonhap news agency said.
Roh's supporters accused his conservative opponents of driving him to his death with the aggressive investigation.
"The people and history know well what led a former president to face that tragic end," Kim Yoo-jung, a spokeswoman for the main opposition Democratic Party, said in a statement.
Prime Minister Han Seung-soo and other top officials from conservative President Lee Myung-bak's administration were turned away from the village of Bongha, the village 280 miles from Seoul that Roh moved to after leaving office to grow rice and raise ducks.
Some Roh backers hurled eggs at a bus carrying Lee Hoi-chang, the conservative who lost the presidential election to Roh in 2002, South Korean news reports said.
In Bongha, mourners clad in black — many weeping — burned incense and left chrysanthemums before bowing to Roh's portrait.
Scores of people, many bearing flowers and holding their children's hands, walked more than a mile or took a shuttle bus to tents set up at Bongha's community center and waited in long lines to pay their respects.
Roh's coffin, draped in red, had returned to Bongha from a hospital in the nearby city of Busan on Saturday, and was met by his daughter and son. His son, Roh Gun-ho, tearfully laid a single chrysanthemum before his father's portrait on Saturday.
The late ex-leader's brother, Roh Gun-pyeong, sentenced last week to four years in prison in connection with a separate bribery case, also arrived to pay his respects after being granted a provisional release.
Roh's family agreed Sunday to a state-organized funeral, Roh's aide said by telephone from Bongha. His body will be cremated as he wished and the mourning period could last up to seven days, the aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.
More than 13,000 mourners have made the pilgrimage to the small village near Roh's birthplace, Gimhae, police said.
"Please rest in peace," one mourner wrote in a guestbook. "We pray for your happiness" said another.