Wearing yellow visors, a color that symbolizes former President Roh Moo-hyun, thousands of mourners gathered in his rural hometown Thursday to commemorate the 10th year since his death.
A stream of mourners from all across the country visited Bongha Village in Gimhae, some 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, from early in the morning to pay tribute to Roh.
The Roh Moo-hyun Foundation, which organized various memorial events, estimated that more than 17,000 people visited the village and that many of them attended the memorial service held at 2 p.m.
On May 23, 2009, Roh jumped to his death from a cliff behind his retirement home amid a widening probe by the prosecution into allegations that members of his family accepted illicit funds.
Roh strove to break down regional divisions and authoritarianism when he served as the president from 2003 to 2008. He is regarded as an icon of South Korea's contemporary liberalism.
Roh's sudden death sparked an outpouring of national grief a decade ago.
The foundation said it has prepared for various memorial events under the slogan "New Roh Moo-hyun" as it believes now is the time to move forward after mourning.
The slogan was chosen to spur efforts to build a society where the values and philosophy that the ex-leader espoused can be realized, according to the foundation.
"I think every visitor probably had the same mindset. I've made a firm decision to live my life as a citizen who stays wide awake," Kim Seong-ho, who came from the southern port city of Busan, said.
First Lady Kim Jung-sook and high-ranking political and government officials were also among those who attended the memorial ceremony.
"Your politics started with integration of people. The path on which President Roh walked was the journey for national unity," National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang said in his eulogy. He was Roh's first chief of staff.
"There were three top policy priorities that you had not completed yet: to seek peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia, to pursue democracy with the people and to build a balanced society where everybody lives well. We will march to realize your dream," he added.
First Lady Kim Jung-sook (3rd from R), former U.S. President George W. Bush (2nd from R) and other key officials attend a memorial service to commemorate late President Roh Moo-hyun on May 23, 2019, at Bongha Village in Gimhae, some 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)
Also on hand at the ceremony were former U.S. President George W. Bush, who was Roh's U.S. counterpart; Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon; the chiefs of the ruling Democratic Party and three opposition parties; government ministers; and presidential officials.
Hwang Kyo-ahn, the head of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, did not attend, but the conservative party sent a delegation of its lawmakers.
Bush, who arrived in Seoul on Wednesday, expressed his intent to attend the memorial service through Poongsan Corp., a local defense firm, which is known to have close ties with the Bush family.
He brought a portrait of Roh that he painted himself and delivered a five-minute eulogy.
"I painted a kind and sympathetic man. I painted a man who respected fundamental rights of all citizens, and today I pray that his vision for human rights in Korea will extend north across the border," Bush said in his eulogy.
Bush said Roh was a strong leader who stood for what he believed was best for his country and was not afraid to speak his thoughts, even to the U.S. president.
"We may have had some differences, but no disagreement ever outweighed our shared belief in the importance of the U.S.-South Korean relationship. And we worked hard to cement that alliance," he said.
President Moon Jae-in met Bush at his office in Seoul, hours before the ex-U.S. president headed to the memorial service.
Moon told Bush that his participation in the event is a "symbolic thing" that demonstrates the firmness of the alliance, according to pool reports.(Yonhap)