From the streets leading to the National Assembly in Seoul where a state funeral was held for late President Kim Young-sam to the National Cemetery where he was laid to rest, South Koreans bade a final farewell on Thursday to the iconic democracy fighter who ended decades of military rule.
Kim, who died Sunday, was honored at the state funeral in front of the parliament with more than 10,000 guests attending. The list included former presidents, prominent politicians, business representatives, and foreign dignitaries.
Bereaved family members of late former President Kim Young-sam, including former first lady Son Myung-soon (in the wheelchair), return after offering flowers Thursday at a state funeral held at the National Assembly. (Yonhap)
President Park Geun-hye, who had a tense relationship with Kim, was absent from the service.
Her decision not to attend was due to the chilly weather that could worsen her high fever and cold ahead of her trip to France on Sunday, her aides said.
The president instead visited Seoul National University Hospital before a limousine carried Kim’s body to the state funeral in Yeouido. She also met with Kim’s son Hyun-chul, and offered her condolence. Cheong Wa Dae said that, in doing this, she was attending a part of the funeral service. Former Presidents Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo also were not present.
In a tearful eulogy delivered amid sprinkles of snow, former National Assembly Speaker Kim Soo-han, who had been Kim’s close associate, honored the late president as a brave leader who buttressed the years of the nation’s struggle toward the democracy.
“He had lived a life of sacrifice and commitment, dedicating his everything for democracy and the rights of the people,” the former speaker said.
“The image of the president who risked his life to resist (the oppressive militant rulers) became the source of courage for all democratic forces.”
Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn said in a funeral speech that Kim had left behind considerable achievements in the nation’s development by conducting sweeping changes and reforms aimed at building a new Republic of Korea.
“It is now our turn to build the peaceful, free and thriving nation he had hoped for,” said Hwang, who served as the head of the state funeral committee. The 2,200-member committee supervised and arranged the state funeral, the first since the relevant law was revised in 2011.
“By breaking the barrier between the two Koreas, we will open the path toward the unification and revive the economy by conducting reform and restructuring.”
Religious services were also conducted representing the nation’s major religions, including Christianity, Catholicism and Buddhism.
After an 80-minute funeral service, the motorcade carrying the coffin of the late Kim headed to his residence in Sangdo-dong, for a brief visit. Kim was then moved to Seoul National Cemetery for burial.
A motorcade carrying the coffin of late President Kim Young-sam heads to his residence in Sangdo-dong, after a state funeral held at National Assembly on Thursday. (Yonhap)
Citizens also mourned Kim’s passing, calling him a political giant who laid a solid foundation for the nation’s democracy.
“I feel sad to see him leaving, but I will remember him as a democracy fighter who dedicated his whole life to open a better future for us,” said Kim Min-sun, a 34-year-old office worker in Seoul.
Born in 1927 as the son of a wealthy anchovy fisherman on Goje Island, off the southern coast of the Korean Peninsula, Kim dreamt of becoming the nation’s leader as a middle school student.
Entering the parliament at the age of 26, he led the pro-democracy movement for nearly 40 years protesting against the military-backed rulers who had seized power in a coup and suppressed democracy.
During his presidency -- 1993 to 1998 -- Kim implemented intensive financial reforms and purged former military-backed rulers -- Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo -- ending years of military interference in politics.
Despite his democratic achievements, Kim ended his presidency as a lame duck, after failing to save the nation from the Asian financial crisis.
Kim stepped away from politics after his retirement, but left a message of harmony and unity, his family said, which politicians from rival parties today pledged to carry forward in honor of his spirit.
By Cho Chung-un (firstname.lastname@example.org)