President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday relayed condolences and praised the achievements of his early predecessor Roh Tae-woo, the country’s first directly elected president, who died of illness a day earlier at the age of 88.
“President Moon Jae-in wished for the deceased to rest in peace, and relayed condolences to the family,” Moon’s spokesperson Park Kyung-mee said.
“(Moon) said that while former President Roh Tae-woo’s faults such as suppressing the May 18 Democratic Uprising, and the Dec. 12 coup are not insignificant, (Roh) also had achievements such as hosting the 1988 Olympics, and adoption of the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement.”
Moon will not visit the memorial altar set for Roh, his office said, as he is set to travel to Europe from Thursday to participate in the G-20 summit in Italy and this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Scotland.
His office said Moon is unable to visit Wednesday due to the ASEAN+3 conference. Key members of Cheong Wa Dae were scheduled to visit the altar to send their condolences instead, an official with the presidential office said.
According to the family Tuesday, Roh left instructions in his will to keep the funeral simple and modest in accordance with the law. He died at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday while receiving treatment at a hospital emergency room in Seoul.
“I tried my best, but there are some mistakes and shortfalls that I must ask for your sincere forgiveness,” Roh said in his will, according to the family. “I am truly thankful and honored to accept the fate drawn upon me as given and serve the great nation of South Korea and its people.”
Other than Moon, major political figures and industry heavyweights on Wednesday paid their respects to Roh.
A memorial altar was set up at Seoul National University Hospital, where mourners visited throughout the day to pay tribute to Roh and his role in South Korea’s path to democracy. The service was put together by Roh’s widow, Kim Ok-sook, his daughter, Roh So-young, and his son, Roh Jae-heon.
SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won visited the altar before traveling to the United States on business. Chey is still legally married to Roh So-young, though divorce proceedings have been underway since 2017.
Ranking government officials, including Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum, also paid their respects. Cabinet members decided in a meeting Wednesday to hold a state funeral for Roh in recognition of his work to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula, despite his checkered legacy.
Contenders for next year’s presidential election and ruling and opposition heavyweights visited the altar Wednesday to pay tribute to Roh.
Rep. Song Young-gil, head of the ruling Democratic Party, visited the altar hours after Lee Jae-myung, presidential nominee for the ruling party, who stepped down as governor of Gyeonggi Province last week.
“Former President Roh has left light and shadow at the same time in our modern history,” Lee said in a Facebook post Tuesday. “The fact that the deceased’s children apologized and paid tribute to the victims of the (Gwangju Democratization Movement) should be highly regarded.”
Main opposition People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok visited the altar Wednesday morning, and party Floor Leader Rep. Kim Gi-heon visited shortly after.
“Roh played a major role in bringing South Korea closer to democracy and achieved great accomplishments on diplomatic relations,” Lee Jun-seok told reporters during his visit. “But we can’t ignore that he has committed sins like participating in the military coup.”
Four presidential contenders from the main opposition party -- former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, Rep. Hong Joon-pyo, Yoo Seong-min and former Jeju Province Gov. Won Hee-ryong -- were scheduled to pay tribute to Roh after participating in a televised debate Wednesday evening.
Hong has highly praised Roh’s “war on crime” in 1990, which crippled most of the country’s criminal gangs.
Kim Chong-in, former interim leader of the People Power Party, was the first to visit Wednesday morning, commenting that Roh had made a “huge accomplishment in terms of diplomacy” during his presidential term.
Former Prime Ministers Ro Jai-bong, Lee Hong-koo and Hwang Kyo-ahn were among the visitors, as well as former Gyeonggi Province Gov. Kim Moon-soo.
Business community leaders paid their respects to Roh by sending wreaths to his funeral service. The altar was decorated with flowers sent from Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, CJ Group Chairman Son Kyung-shik, Hanhwa Group Chairman Kim Seung-youn and more.
Former President Chun Doo-hwan, close friend and predecessor of Roh, was reported to have mourned Roh’s death but was unable to attend the service due to his deteriorating health. Chun’s aides reportedly said Chun cried without words upon hearing the news of Roh’s death.
By Ko Jun-tae (email@example.com