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Massive, Tearful South Korean Crowds Attend Former President's Funeral


South Koreans in massive numbers have said a tearful farewell to South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun. The former leader committed suicide nearly a week ago, under the intense pressure of an ongoing corruption investigation. Funeral ceremonies were orderly but tinged with anger at the current South Korean president.

Somber music played as the hearse of former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun pulled slowly onto the grounds of Seoul's Gyeongbuk palace - where hundreds of prominent South Koreans, dressed in black, gathered for his formal funeral.

In a nearby public square, tens of thousands of ordinary South Koreans gathered dressed in yellow - the theme color of Mr. Roh's successful campaign for the presidency, which he occupied from 2003 to 2008.

For the past six months, the former president and his family had been the target of an intensifying bribery investigation. Prosecutors were believed to be just days away from issuing a warrant for Mr. Roh's arrest when he threw himself off a high mountain ledge Saturday.

As they watched the formal ceremony on giant screen televisions, some tearful crowd members waved signs saying "we are sorry we could not protect you." Han Myung-sook, Mr. Roh's former prime minister, echoed that sentiment in a voice cracking with emotion.

"Mr. President, I am sorry. Mr. President, we love you," she said.

In Korean tradition, prominent guests at the funeral approached the altar to offer a flower and bow to a large photo of President Roh. That ritual was momentarily disrupted when incumbent President Lee Myung-bak went to pay his respects.

Members of Mr. Lee's political opposition shouted at him and his wife as they approached the altar, with at least one lawmaker demanding he apologize for the former President's death.

That sentiment is not an isolated one. Many South Koreans accuse Mr. Lee of backing the prosecutors who hounded Mr. Roh - and they say the current president has a degree of responsibility for Mr. Roh's fate.

Lee Seul-bi, a woman in her twenties, asks, "is it suicide if you are forced to jump?" She says in her view, Mr. Roh's death was a political murder.

As Friday's formal ceremony drew to a close, the former president's hearse passed through throngs of emotional South Koreans as it slowly made its way back to his rural home town. Hundreds of riot police watched as a public ceremony wound down - hoping to prevent the emotion of the funeral from sparking mass protests against the current government.

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