- The Washington Times - Monday, May 25, 2009

SEOUL — South Korea’s government and the family of former President Roh Moo-hyun agreed on Sunday to hold a public funeral for the leader who likely jumped to his death after being hounded for weeks in a widening corruption scandal.

Mr. Roh, 62, whose single five-year term as president ended about 15 months ago, appears to have leapt from a cliff behind his rural home on Saturday morning.

He wrote in a note before his death: “Don’t blame anybody. Please cremate me. And please leave a small tombstone near home.” Local police said the results of a provisional investigation indicate that the death was suicide.

“It is more desirable to send the former president off in an honorable and courteous way befitting a former president and to allow as many people as possible to pay reverence and praise him,” Cheon Ho-seon, a spokesman for Mr. Roh when he was president, said in a statement.

Local media said the government and family were looking to hold the funeral on Friday for Mr. Roh, a self-taught lawyer who rose from rural poverty and won the presidency backed by a generation of students who hit the streets to fight for democracy in the 1980s.

Perhaps Mr. Roh’s most celebrated moment came when he went to Pyongyang in 2007 for a summit with Kim Jong-il in what was only the second meeting of leaders of the divided peninsula.

North Korea reported on Mr. Roh’s death on Sunday, saying in a two-sentence dispatch: “Media at home and abroad are linking the motive of his death with the mental burden caused by the intensive investigation of the prosecution.”

Mr. Roh was questioned last month by prosecutors on suspicion that his family took about $6 million in bribes from a shoe company chief executive. The investigation tarnished the reputation he tried to nurture of being a reformer who wanted to clean up government.

The South Korean public largely saw Mr. Roh as an ineffective leader whose government was marred by numerous missteps and overwhelmingly voted to replace him with a conservative businessman who pledged to undo Mr. Roh’s economic policies.

The likelihood of suicide could boost sympathy for opponents of his successor, President Lee Myung-bak, whose hard-line policies have largely overturned the more accommodating approach of Mr. Roh in dealings with North Korea and strike-prone labor unions.

Mourners in Seoul paid respects to Mr. Roh at the weekend while tearful residents of his southeastern Bongha Village hometown lined the streets when a coffin carrying Mr. Roh’s body arrived back from hospital on Saturday.

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