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President Roh laid to final rest
(email@example.com) By Lee Ji-yoon
GIMHAE, South Gyeongsang Province - Former President Roh Moo-hyun was laid to his final rest yesterday in his hometown village, with thousands of mourners turning out to pay their respects.
Roh committed suicide by jumping off a cliff behind his retirement house in the Bongha village in South Gyeongsang Province on May 23. He was 62 years old.
Early morning before the national burial service, a Buddhist rite commemorating the 49th day since his death was held, only attended by his family members and close aides. In Buddhism it is the point at which the soul is supposed to enter the next world.
Mourners from all over the country started streaming into the hamlet in the early morning. Because vehicles were not allowed to enter the village, they had to walk along the 1.5 kilometer road to reach the service venue. Despite the sultry weather, no obvious complaint was noticed among the visitors while volunteers helped them cool off by handing out yellow fans with Roh’s picture on them.
Sixteen thousand people were invited to the service, and thousands of others watched it on huge screens installed at various points in the village. There were some people who watched the service from the mountain behind Roh’s house.
The burial service started with the arrival of Roh’s ashes carried by his son Gun-ho. Roh’s body was cremated right after the funeral on May 29 and the remains had been enshrined at Jeongtowon, a small temple in the village, along with the memorial tablets of his parents.
Besides lawmakers and high-profile figures, 14 "citizen representatives" who had shared special experiences with Roh offered white chrysanthemums to the late president. This was the most dramatic moment during the burial service, and many mourners were overwhelmed with grief at this point.
Of the representatives was Yoon Yeon-hee, for whom Roh, then a human rights lawyer, argued the case involving some pre-democracy activists in Busan. Also included were Lee Il-soon, a merchant at a traditional market in Busan, who delivered a supporting speech during his presidential election campaign, and Lee Hee-ah, a pianist with just four fingers who played at the presidential office.
Following the screening of a short memorial film, a service for enshrinement of his ashes was performed. His final resting place is located 200 meters from his retirement home, which can be overlooked from his birthplace, the residence and the Owl Rock where he jumped.
His ashes, in a white porcelain vase, were placed in a lotus-shaped stone box. Other grave goods were DVDs of a documentary titled "The five-year record of the participatory administration" and other memorial films.
Then the box was covered with a stone bearing the inscription of "Korea’s 16th President Roh Moo-hyun 1946-2009" and buried at the underground marble chest. The chest also was covered with a plate stone inscribed with the phrase "The last fortress of democracy is the organized power of civilized citizens."
"The phrase, selected from among his speeches, is Roh’s strong belief that he never gave up until his death. He often mentioned it as the essential value for the development of democracy," said Lee Byung-wan, former presidential chief of staff and head of the burial service committee.
To end the ceremony, all participants paid a silent tribute to the former president after a 21 gun salute.
Then a two-by-two meter flat stone - 40 centimeters in height - was placed as a gravestone with the simple inscription of "President Roh Moo-hyun."
After the service, the burial service committee held a news conference to express their gratitude for the public’s attention and to announce future plans regarding the memorial businesses for Roh.
"We are considering establishing a foundation to manage Roh’s resting place and his birthplace, which is being renovated. We are also gathering opinions of Roh’s allies, especially those during his pre-democracy movement, to discuss memorial projects," said Moon Jae-in, Roh’s attorney who served as chief presidential secretary during the last year of Roh’s presidency.
"Nothing specific has been decided for the future of Roh’s wife and son," he added.
The former first lady Kwon has expressed her willingness to continue to stay at her current residence in the village. The son also quit his job at LG Electronics, allegedly to be with his mother.
But the committee members refused to address political issues such as the grouping of pro-Roh figures as a political force, saying it was not the right time, as they were still in the period of mourning for Roh.
Ordinary citizens were able to pay their respects to Roh as soon as the service was over.
The memorial altar, which was built on May 23 at the entrance of the village, was removed yesterday at midnight.
After his presidency from 2003 to 2008, Roh and his wife Kwon Yang-sook returned to their hometown village, some 450 kilometers south of Seoul, and led a normal life mingling with villagers and the public. But Roh’s image as a clean politician was tarnished as his family and close aides were investigated on allegations of graft. In late April, he suffered the nationally televised humiliation of being summoned by prosecutors.
In his death note found on his computer screen, he said: "Do not be too sad. Isn’t life and death all a part of nature? Do not be sorry. Do not feel resentment toward anyone. It is fate."
He also asked his family to cremate his body and to build a small monument near his home.