Page last updated at 13:25 GMT, Saturday, 23 May 2009 14:25 UK

S Koreans sad and angry over Roh

By John Sudworth
BBC News, Seoul

Mourners standing in front of the impromptu altar
Hundreds queued up to pay their respects at an impromptu altar

Roh Moo-hyun lived a remarkable life, rising from a humble background to South Korea's highest office. The circumstances of his death are also remarkable, and deeply shocking.

Newspapers have been publishing special editions, devoted entirely to his career, his political legacy and what is known so far about how he died.

In central Seoul, an impromptu altar has been set up, and hundreds of people, some in tears, queued patiently to take it in turns to kneel on the ground, bow deeply and lay flowers.

Eom Hee-ok told me that she did not consider herself a strong supporter of Mr Roh during his time in office.

"But I felt very sorry for the man when I saw the pictures on television," she said. "The sense of remorse moved my heart, and I just had to come pay my respects."

Eom Hee-ok in busy street
Eom Hee-ok came to the altar after seeing pictures on television

Saturday morning shoppers huddled around TV screens at Seoul's main train station as the news began to emerge.

Later, the pictures of the former president's coffin being moved from hospital to the public hall in the village of Bongha, where he had been living since the end of his presidency, were broadcast live on television.

As well as a deep sense of sadness, for some, there is a feeling of anger.

"No one is perfect, he may have had faults," 49-year-old Boo Hang-sik told me. "But the corruption investigation he was facing was politically motivated, that is why I am angry."

Reputation tainted

There are, of course, many South Koreans who supported the investigation, believing it proper that Mr Roh should answer the allegations. But few can doubt the enormous pressure it placed him under, and the emotional burden of having his reputation tainted.

Boo Han-sik with flower
Boo Hang-sik thinks the corruption investigation was politically motivated

It was particularly stinging, because he had come to power promising to make a clean break from South Korea's graft-ridden political past.

So the accusation that his family received up to $6m in bribes from a wealthy businessman friend was very big news indeed.

When he travelled from his home in the south of the country to Seoul to face formal questioning, every inch of the 400km (250 mile) journey, with journalists in hot pursuit, was shown live on television.

"What is left for me for the rest of my life is just to be a burden to others," his suicide note is reported to say.

The spokesman for his successor, the current President Lee Myung-bak, has spoken of his profound sense of shock, calling the death "truly unbelievable and deeply sad."

Polar opposites

Whether the current administration will now pay a political price as a result of this tragedy will depend on how widely and deeply the sense of injustice is shared.

Politically, Lee Myung-bak is the polar opposite of Mr Roh.

Having taken office last year, he has dismantled much of the strategy of reconciliation with North Korea.

Mr Roh, during his five years at the helm, had expanded the generous aid and trade links with the old enemy, and even had the red carpet rolled out for him in Pyongyang, at a rare inter-Korean summit.

Under Mr Lee, relations between the two countries have deteriorated rapidly.

Three men kneeling at impromptu altar
Many of the mourners felt anger as well as sadness

Some analysts are suggesting that Mr Roh's death will bolster sympathy for his liberal brand of politics and sap support from the current conservative administration.

The Justice Minister, Kim Kyung-han, has now declared that, as a result of the death, the investigation into the corruption allegations will be closed.

It is not yet known what the arrangements for the funeral will be, or when it will be held. But according to the South Korean media, the suicide note contains some guidance from Mr Roh himself.

"Please cremate me. And please leave a small memorial stone near my home. I have long thought about that," it is reported to say.

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