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Published : 2012-08-21 18:10
Updated : 2012-08-21 19:59

The ruling Saenuri Party’s presidential candidate Rep. Park Geun-hye kicked off her official schedule Tuesday by visiting the grave of former President Roh Moo-hyun in a display of her commitment to national harmony.

This was the first visit by the conservative politician to the grave of the iconic progressive leader, in Bongha Village in South Gyeongsang Province. Roh took his life in May 2009 during a probe into alleged irregularities surrounding his family.

“I will be paying respect because he is a former president who has set one of the pillars of the Republic of Korea,” Park told reporters.

Park also paid respect at the graves of other past presidents at the National Cemetery in southern Seoul, including Syngman Rhee, her late father Park Chung-hee, and Kim Dae-jung, earlier in the day.
The ruling Saenuri Party’s presidential candidate Rep. Park Geun-hye, accompanied by her entourage, walks out after paying tribute at former President Roh Moo-hyun’s grave in Bongha Village, Gimhae, on Tuesday. Owl’s Rock, from which Roh jumped to his death on May 23, 2009, is seen in the background. (Yonhap News)

“The visit was planned to represent (Park’s intention) to go hand-in-hand with everyone who cherishes Korea beyond ideological differences among the conservatives, progressives and moderates,” a camp official said.

After visiting Roh’s grave, Park was greeted by former first lady Kwon Yang-sook. Their meeting was not disclosed to the press.

Park won an overwhelming vote to become the Saenuri Party’s first female presidential candidate on Monday, kicking the race for the Dec. 19 election into full gear.

Park’s camp is expected to focus on smoothing her image associated with the dictatorial rule of Park Chung-hee in the 1960s and ‘70s, in order to win support from undecided and moderate voters.

Roh’s former chief secretary Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic United Party is one of her biggest rivals, ranking a close third after Park and popular professor Ahn Cheol-soo in various polls.

Park had attempted to visit Roh’s gravesite immediately upon his passing three years ago, but had to return because of vehement protests by Roh followers against the ruling camp.

DUP presidential primary candidates expressed wariness.

“I deem (the visit) appropriate,” said Moon while attending a seminar in Seoul. “However, the visit should not just be a mere formality but (should be followed) with sincerity to ease the pains of the past and seek harmony of the people.”

The DUP also downplayed Park’s surprise visit as an “insincere political show.”

“It is a showy gesture by the ruling party’s presidential candidate to pay such a visit without any sincere apology or reflection (of the past) for the sake of the presidential election, and it is a disrespect to the bereaved families,” DUP spokesman Rep. Jung Sung-ho said.

The Saenuri Party, meanwhile, continued preparations for its presidential election committee. Three-term lawmaker Rep. Yoo Seong-min, who was chief secretary for Park, is being dubbed a plausible chairman for the committee to be launched in September, sources said.

By Lee Joo-hee (jhl@heraldcorp.com)

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