- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 30, 2009

SEOUL | Anger mixed with sorrow as hundreds of thousands of South Koreans - mothers pushing strollers, businessmen and long-haired artists - flooded into the streets Friday to mourn the death of former President Roh Moo-hyun, who some say was driven to suicide by political rivals.

The massive crowd clogged several blocks of an 11-lane thoroughfare in downtown Seoul, where people sobbed and chanted anti-government slogans at a ceremony for Mr. Roh. The 62-year-old liberal shocked the nation a week ago by jumping off a cliff amid a deepening corruption probe that targeted him and his family.

Although the mourning was mostly peaceful Friday, the emotionally charged event had the potential to blow up into bigger protests against conservative President Lee Myung-bak. Roh supporters have accused Mr. Lee’s administration of pushing the aggressive probe.

Mr. Roh and his family were accused of taking $6 million in kickbacks during his presidency. He denied the accusations, but prosecutors were expected to soon announce whether they would seek to arrest him.

Many spent as much time Friday venting their rage against the government as they did paying homage to Mr. Roh.

“Rather than feeling sad or depressed, I cried so much because of extreme anger,” said Choi Hee-kyung, 39, a housewife. “The government led him to death.”

An artist with long, wispy hair taped a huge sheet of white rice paper on the ground. As a large crowd gathered around him, he dunked his head into a plastic basin of ink and used his hair to write in big, bold Korean script, “Wake up, my countrymen!”

About 21,000 riot police waited in alleys and back streets, on alert for violence while staying away from the Roh supporters to avoid provoking them.

At City Hall, sobbing mourners wore yellow paper hats with images of Mr. Roh and waved yellow handkerchiefs as they watched the funeral on large TV monitors. The plaza was awash in yellow, Mr. Roh’s campaign color.

Police estimated the crowd at 180,000, but organizers said 400,000 and the broadcaster YTN reported 500,000.

“He was a good man,” said auto mechanic Lee Seung-chul, 38, as he endured the blazing midday sun. “He did a good job, but higher, more powerful people didn’t like him.”

The outspoken Mr. Roh, who served from 2002 to 2008, crafted an image as a clean politician with humble roots who stuck up for common people. Young voters liked him because he promised to stand up to Washington. Others favored his policies to promote democracy, fight corruption and push for better relations with North Korea.

Mr. Roh’s funeral procession began rolling at dawn from his southern hometown of Bongha, where he killed himself on May 23. Villagers lined the streets as his hearse, covered in white chrysanthemums, departed for the capital.

His official funeral ceremony was held in the courtyard of the 14th-century Gyeongbok Palace in the heart of ancient Seoul, where Buddhist monks and Catholic nuns chanted prayers.

Mr. Roh’s suicide note was read aloud, including his pleas to his wife and two children not to be “too sad” and his description of his suffering as “unbearable.”

Opposition lawmakers jeered Mr. Lee as the president and his wife approached the altar to pay their respects.

“President Lee Myung-bak, apologize!” opposition lawmaker Baek Won-woo yelled, jumping to his feet and cursing Mr. Lee before security guards hauled him away. “This is political revenge, a political murder!”

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