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State funeral to be held for ex-President Roh despite controversy

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Seen above is the funeral altar of former President Roh Tae-woo, at Seoul National University Hospital in Jongno District, Wednesday. The government will hold a state funeral for Roh, who died on Tuesday at his age of 88. Joint Press Corps
Seen above is the funeral altar of former President Roh Tae-woo, at Seoul National University Hospital in Jongno District, Wednesday. The government will hold a state funeral for Roh, who died on Tuesday at his age of 88. Joint Press Corps

By Nam Hyun-woo

The government will hold a state funeral for former President Roh Tae-woo, who died Tuesday, despite contradicting views over his record as the co-leader of a military coup and his oppression of pro-democracy movements.

"The deceased served as the 13th president of Korea and achieved much in advancing progress for the country," Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said at a Cabinet meeting, Wednesday. "The government will hold a state funeral to praise Roh's achievements and do its utmost in paying its respects to him."

Following the decision, Kim was made chairman of a committee overseeing a memorial period that will last until Saturday.

During the memorial period prior to the funeral service, the government will recommend all public offices and homes fly the national flag at half-mast.

President Moon Jae-in expressed his condolences to the bereaved family, Wednesday.

"President Moon said former President Roh committed a number of questionable historical acts including the 1979 military coup and the brutal crackdown on the 1980 pro-democracy movement in Gwangju, but he also had achievements such as the successful hosting of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games, the pursuit of a Northern Policy and the adoption of a 1991 inter-Korean accord," presidential spokeswoman Park Kyung-mee said.

The decision and the president's comments come after the liberal Moon administration deliberated on the level of "courtesy" it would extend the conservative former president, whose political career is the subject of intense debate.

The State Funeral Act stipulates that the ceremony is held when a person is respected for his or her distinguished service to the country.

The law, however, does not specify whether the honor can be granted to a person who was convicted of a serious crime. Roh was sentenced to a 17-year prison term in April 1997 after being found guilty for his role in the coup and the Gwangju crackdown. He was released from prison on a presidential pardon in December that year.

Due to this, some lawmakers from the ruling, liberal Democratic Party of Korea have raised objections to holding a state funeral for Roh.

"With Roh being one of those responsible for the 1980 massacre, historical punishment has yet to be finished," Rep. Yoon Young-deok, whose constituency is Gwangju, said in a press conference Tuesday. "It is inappropriate to grant Roh a state funeral, just because he is a former president."

Roh did not give a public apology for his crimes, but his son, Jae-heun, has apologized to the bereaved family members of victims of the Gwangju crackdown, saying this was what his father wanted. The son has been regularly visiting the May 18th National Cemetery in Gwangju.

In his will made public by the bereaved family, Roh said, "I did my best but now sincerely ask for forgiveness for my shortcomings and faults," and, "I feel very grateful and honored to have humbly accepted my destiny and served the great Republic of Korea and the people."

A condolence banner flies near former President Roh Tae-woo's birthplace in Dong District, Daegu, Wednesday. Yonhap
A condolence banner flies near former President Roh Tae-woo's birthplace in Dong District, Daegu, Wednesday. Yonhap

After the memorial period, Roh is expected to be buried in Paju, Gyeonggi Province. The Act on the Establishment and Management of National Cemeteries states that a deceased president can be buried in a national cemetery, however, this will not be the case for Roh, because the law bans a former president who was convicted of a crime after leaving office from being laid to rest there. The bereaved family also expressed their intention to bury Roh in Paju, Gyeonggi Province.

Though President Moon offered his condolences to Roh, an official at Cheong Wa Dae said he would not visit Roh's memorial altar because he will be on a nine-day trip to Europe from today, where he will meet Pope Francis, and attend a Group of 20 Summit and the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference. The official said presidential chief of staff Yoo Young-min will visit on his behalf, adding it has not been determined whether Moon will visit Roh's grave after he returns.

So far, incumbent presidents have paid their respects during the memorial period for their deceased predecessors.

In 2015, then-President Park Geun-hye visited the memorial for former President Kim Young-sam at Seoul National University Hospital. In August 2009, then-President Lee Myung-bak paid his respects to former President Kim Dae-jung at a memorial at the National Assembly. In May that year, when his predecessor Roh Moo-hyun died, Lee offered his condolences at a memorial altar in Seoul, as supporters of Roh opposed Lee from visiting the memorial hall in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province.




Nam Hyun-woo namhw@koreatimes.co.kr


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