S Korea says solemn farewell to "great leader" Kim

Last Updated: Sunday, August 23, 2009 - 11:41

Seoul: South Korea on Sunday said a solemn farewell to Kim Dae-Jung, who battled dictators to bring democracy and strove to make peace with communist North Korea when he became president.
Kim, who died on Tuesday aged 85, was "a great leader of modern history" who won worldwide respect, Prime Minister Han Seung-Soo told a state funeral for the Nobel prizewinner.

Thousands of politicians, foreign dignitaries and ordinary people attended the ceremony, staged outside parliament to signify Kim`s contribution to democracy.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il on Friday sent envoys to Seoul to deliver his wreath.

They left on Sunday before the funeral but after holding talks with current President Lee Myung-Bak, raising hopes of warmer ties after months of hostility.

Kim Dae-Jung survived assassination attempts and a death sentence in his struggle against military-backed rulers, who had presided over dramatic economic growth but trampled human rights.

Mass street protests led largely by Kim ushered in democracy in 1987.

Democratisation "was possible because you were there with your unwavering convictions and your unyielding courage," Han said in his eulogy to Kim.

"Your sacrifices, dedication and devotion allowed freedom, human rights and democracy to fully blossom in Korea, making our country today a proud and respected nation in the world."

The government had declared six days of national mourning, with flags at half-mast. Around 24,000 people were at the funeral.

Mourners pinned yellow ribbons to parliament`s main gate. Thousands of police were deployed around the compound, where a large portrait of Kim surrounded by flowers was placed on a shrine.

After the hour-long ceremony, which began at 2:00 pm (0500 GMT), the coffin -- escorted by about 30 police motorcycle outriders -- was to be taken to the national cemetery.

A giant national flag will lead the procession.

Kim won office in 1997 at his fourth attempt, and was sworn in the following February at the height of the Asian financial crisis. He steered the country out of the crisis, launching major reforms and corporate restructuring.

In 2000, he met Kim Jong-Il in Pyongyang for the first-ever summit in the hostile history of the two countries. His "sunshine" aid and engagement policy eased relations but failed to halt the North`s nuclear weapons drive.

Han said Kim "opened the path for inter-Korean reconciliation."

Relations sharply worsened after current conservative president Lee abandoned the policy and linked economic aid to nuclear disarmament.

Kim was awarded the Nobel prize for the summit and for his earlier struggle for democracy.

Critics of "sunshine" said it lavished aid on the North for no tangible benefits.

The 2000 summit was marred by controversy after it emerged that Kim`s government arranged for a business group to pay the North 500 million dollars as an inducement to hold it.

But Kim never wavered on the need for reconciliation. "This is the best way to end the national tragedy and make a reunified motherland," he said in his final speech in office in 2003.

"We will forever remember his wish for democracy and human rights as well as reconciliation and peace," the ruling Grand National Party said in a statement.

Bureau Report

First Published: Sunday, August 23, 2009 - 11:41

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