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Seoul mayor laid to rest amid lingering controversy


The official funeral ceremony for Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon was held at City Hall on Monday morning, with eulogists honoring his pioneering work in civic movements and his citizen-centric policies while in office. But the image of the capital’s longest-serving mayor was tainted by fresh details of his alleged sexual misconduct, announced at a press conference just hours after the service.

About 100 people -- including the bereaved family, civic group representatives, Seoul Metropolitan Government officials and leaders of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, to which he belonged -- attended the solemn ceremony for Park, who was found dead early Friday at age 64 while serving his third term as mayor.

The service was streamed online, drawing over 12,600 views as of the end of the ceremony at 9:50 a.m. in an auditorium in a city government building in Jongno.

The funeral committee cremated his body with the ashes to go to his hometown of Changnyeong County, South Gyeongsang Province.

In a commemorative speech, Lee Hae-chan, chairman of the Democratic Party and a close friend of the late mayor for almost 40 years, called Park a symbol of the country’s civic movement.

“The Park Won-soon I knew was a very enthusiastic person. He never gave up, never compromised,” he said.

He shared stories of Park’s bravery as a human rights lawyer, saying he had taken on sensitive political cases when the country was under military rule.

Another eulogist, Baek Nak-cheong, professor emeritus at Seoul National University, spoke of Park’s dedication to transforming society as an activist and as mayor.

“You had power of execution and dedication to turn your creativity into action,” Baek said, recalling how Park founded civic groups like People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy and the Beautiful Foundation.

Baek urged people to focus on paying their respects to Park, saying that an evaluation and a comprehensive inquiry into his legacy could start in earnest after a mourning period.

There has been heated debate over how Park should be honored, as his death came immediately after a former secretary filed a sexual misconduct complaint against him.

“The death of a human being deserves mourning no matter how ordinary or humble the person is. The reason why countless people cannot hide their sorrow and shock over your death is because you were special and you practiced charity,” Baek said.

Park’s death triggered an outpouring of grief across the country. Over 30,000 people visited memorial altars set up at Seoul National University Hospital and in front of City Hall. Over 1 million people laid virtual chrysanthemums at the online memorial site.

His contributions to the city as mayor were remembered by mourners.

The former mayor protected protesters during the 2016-2017 candlelight vigils at Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square so they could hold safe and peaceful rallies, which later led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye and redefined the country’s democracy. He also opened up space for the bereaved families of the 2014 Sewol ferry victims to commemorate the tragic incident and puruse the truth about it.

In her speech, Park’s daughter Da-in reminded mourners of her father’s campaign slogan, “Citizens are the mayor,” which he persistently emphasized throughout his nearly 10-year tenure.

“My father has gone away. He cannot come back now. I hope that all of you will protect the city to make it a happy and safe Seoul,” she said. “Citizens are the mayor, again.”

Women’s activist groups held a press conference later in the day, accusing Park of sexually harassing a secretary for four years.

“We wanted to support the victim in returning to her daily life and for the perpetrator to be punished. But the victim is suffering in the real and virtual worlds (as the target of abuse) due to the extreme choice that the defendant made on the day the complaint was filed,” Lee Mi-kyoung, director of the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center, said during a press conference.

By Park Han-na (