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Trial and memorial service mark reversed fate of former presidents

Former South Korean leaders were at the center of local media attention Tuesday as the start of a trial marked the plunge of a recently ousted former president while a memorial service for a once-disgraced late leader helped reinstate his honor.

The trial for ousted former President Park Geun-hye began at a Seoul district court, also involving Park's longtime friend Choi Soon-sil who is at the center of the corruption scandal that eventually led to the March 10 removal of the former president.

Park is suspected of soliciting 59.2 billion won (US$52 million) in bribes for herself and Choi, an allegation that could have her imprisoned for a minimum 10 years to life if convicted.

Ousted former President Park Geun-hye (R) sits at the defense table at the Seoul Central District Court as her trial on corruption charges begins on May 23, 2017, also involving her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil (R). (Yonhap)

The start of her trial could highlight the nadir of Park's fate, which has drastically changed over the course of only a few months.

She was in the country's highest elected office less than eight months ago when her corruption allegations first surfaced in October.

Despite her repeated denials, it has been a steady roll down hill for her ever since.

The parliament voted to impeach Park in December, marking the second impeachment of an incumbent president in the country's history.

And on March 10, the Constitutional Court upheld the parliamentary impeachment, making Park the first South Korean leader to ever be removed from office.

On Tuesday, Park became the third president in the country's history to face a criminal trial.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is former President Roh Moo-hyun, who had largely remained disgraced and accused of corruption since he took his own life eight years ago Tuesday amid a prosecution investigation on corruption allegations involving his family members.

A visitor takes pictures of a wreath placed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in in front of the tomb of late former President Roh Moo-hyun. The president was set to attend a memorial service marking the eighth anniversary of Roh's death in Bongha, 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on May 23, 2017. (Yonhap)

An annual memorial service again marked his tragic death in his native hometown of Bongha, a small village located some 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul in South Gyeongsang Province.

What made this year's service special was the attendance of President Moon Jae-in, apparently reinstating the late president's honor.

"Roh Moo-hyun's dream has been resurrected as the power of people who are aware," Moon said during the nationally televised service in Bongha, also attended by hundreds of others, including National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-Kyun and presidential chief of staff Im Jong-seok.

The president noted the late former president's vision was what inspired the people to act and demand change, eventually leading to his own victory in the May 9 presidential election.

"Our dream must now go beyond those of the Roh government and expand to building a new Republic of Korea, a nation that is truly a nation," Moon said.

"President Roh Moo-hyun. I miss you. I wish to see you. But this will be the last time I stand here as a president. I will return for sure, after fulfilling my duties to become a successful president," he added.

When asked to comment on former President Park's trial, however, officials at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said they had nothing to say. (Yonhap)

Lee Sung-won  edt@koreapost.com

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