Page last updated at 05:21 GMT, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 06:21 UK

Obituary: Kim Dae-jung


Key moments in Kim Dae Jung's life

Former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung spent his life pursuing democracy and the reunification of his country with the North.

He overcame the most daunting series of events - a kidnapping, repeated arrests, beatings, exile and a death sentence, emerging as a Nobel Laureate and ground-breaking leader of his country.

Kim Dae-jung was thought to have been born on 6 January 1924, but it is reported that he later changed this to 3 December 1925 to avoid conscription during the Japanese colonial period.

His parents were middle-class farmers who lived in the Cholla region in the south-west of the country, whose people were regarded by most other South Koreans as socially inferior.

But after graduating from a commercial high school, Kim built up his own shipping company before deciding to enter politics.

Kim Dae-jung
Kim Dae-jung fought against South Korea's military rulers

Elected to the National Assembly in 1961, Kim gained popularity after he spoke out against the authoritarian regime of General Park Chung-hee, who had seized power in a military coup.


As the main opposition voice he narrowly failed to win the 1971 presidential election, attracting 46% of the votes.

Just a month later he survived the first of five apparent attempts on his life after a lorry forced his car off the road. Two people died but Kim escaped with an injured leg that was to leave him with a permanent limp.

In 1973 South Korean agents kidnapped him in Tokyo, apparently in response to his public condemnation of the rewriting of the constitution to give more power to General Park.

With Queen Elizabeth
Kim was a figure on the world stage

He was taken to Seoul where it was rumoured that the American ambassador intervened to save his life. Instead, Kim spent the next few years under house arrest, in jail or in exile.

Park was assassinated in 1979, but another general, Chun Doo-hwan, seized power. Kim was charged with sedition and sentenced to death.

Following the intervention of the US government the sentence was commuted to 20 years in prison and, in 1982, he went to live in Boston where he taught at Harvard University.

Peaceful transfer

On his return to Seoul in 1985 Kim was immediately placed once again under house arrest but, once again, became the voice of opposition.

Finally released, he staged two unsuccessful bids for the presidency before finally achieving his ambition in 1997, at the height of the Asian economic crisis.

Kim Dae Jung greets Kim Jong Il
He fostered warmer ties with North Korea's Kim Jong-il

It was the first peaceful transfer of power from a ruling party to the opposition since South Korea was founded in 1948.

In 2000 Kim became the first Korean to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, largely for his so-called "sunshine policy" of promoting closer ties with Communist North Korea.

But while he managed to pull South Korea back from the brink of bankruptcy, many of his promised reforms failed to materialise.

His pledge to fight corruption suffered a blow in his final year of office when his two sons were charged with bribery.

Nevertheless, Kim Dae-jung had ensured a special place in his country's history, through his vision and the courage and persistence he demonstrated over many years in his fight for greater political freedom.

Print Sponsor

Former S Korea President Kim dies
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