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Mourning of Park marred by controversy


Thousands continued to mourn the death of former Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon on Sunday, but the somber mood was marred by controversy over his alleged sexual misconduct.

A solemn ceremony will be held Monday morning with 100 people in attendance, including the bereaved family, civic group representatives and leaders of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, to which he belonged, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

The funeral service will be streamed online, as the number of participants is limited due to coronavirus risks.

Park, who was serving his third term as mayor of the capital city, was found dead on a mountainside in Seoul early Friday, two days after his former secretary filed a harassment complaint against him. The nature of the offense has not been disclosed by police, but is reportedly sexual.

As of Sunday at noon, over 500,000 people had signed a petition that raised objections to the “fancy” five-day funeral for “the powerful politician who committed suicide due to sexual harassment allegations.”

The petition was posted on the Cheong Wa Dae website Friday. The presidential office is required to give an official response to petitions that generate more than 200,000 endorsements in a month.

Some people took issue with the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s decision to hold a five-day mayoral funeral for Park. Regular Korean funerals last three days.

Some right-wing politicians and pundits have officially announced that they won’t pay their respects to Park, questioning his integrity.

A conservative group even filed for an injunction Saturday against acting Mayor Seo Jung-hyup, who assumed office after Park’s death, in an attempt to stop the five-day funeral service.

The group, Hover Lab, which runs a YouTube channel, asserted that the city government violated protocol rules.

“As the funeral is expected to cost more than 1 billion won ($832,000), it will be subject to a request for residents’ audit and a resident suit, and an injunction against it may be recognized,” it said.

Government-led funerals for government officials at the ministerial level or higher are subject to approval from the president following consultations with the Interior Ministry and the personal secretary office of the presidential office, Cheong Wa Dae.

In response, the city government said the funeral would cost around 200 million won and it had discussed the matter with the Interior Ministry, which said the decision was at the city government’s discretion.

Despite the row, mourning continued at memorial altars set up at Seoul National University Hospital and in front of City Hall, as well as at the online memorial site.

Over 18,000 people laid white chrysanthemums in front of Park’s portrait at the two altars as of Sunday at noon. Over 918,000 people had visited the online site as of 5:20 p.m. Sunday.

Other commemorative events took place across the country. An altar was set up in Japan’s capital city, Tokyo.

The minor center-left People’s Party leader Ahn Cheol-soo, who dropped his bid and supported Park in the 2011 mayoral election, said Saturday that he wouldn’t visit the memorial sites.

“Deep self-reflection and soul-searching of senior officials in responsible positions and high-ranking public officials on their cognition and behavior is needed,” Ahn said in a Facebook post, adding that he disagrees with holding a mayoral funeral as Park’s death was not the result of conducting his government duties.

“The Seoul mayoral funeral is a kind of state-led funeral that is executed using the city’s budget. This is secondary harm to the victim,” said Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the main opposition United Future Party.

The main opposition party said Sunday that it would raise the issue of the allegations against Park during a confirmation hearing for Kim Chang-ryong, who was named the chief of the National Police Agency.

The case has been dropped, as is typically done when the accused is deceased.

“Although the investigative body’s right to send the case to a court was lapsed (due to Park’s death), it is necessary to hear the National Police Agency commissioner general’s future course of action on the complaint already filed,” Rep. Park Wan-su said.

By Park Han-na (