Thousands mourn Roh Moo-Hyun’s death

SEOUL: Tens of thousands including North Korea’s leader expressed grief on Monday at the death of former South Korean president Roh Moo-Hyun, who leapt from a cliff after being questioned in a graft scandal.

The government ordered a week of mourning and a public funeral for the liberal leader who held office from 2003-8, as thousands of riot police went on guard to quell any backlash against the current conservative administration.

On the day the North announced it had staged another nuclear test, leader Kim Jong-Il sent a message of condolence to Roh’s family, according to the communist state’s official media.

“On hearing the news that former president Roh Moo-Hyun died in an accident, I express profound condolences to widow Kwon Ryang-Suk and his bereaved family,” it said.

Roh doggedly pursued reconciliation with the North despite its 2006 nuclear and missile tests. He held a summit with Kim in Pyongyang in October 2007, only the second in the history of the two countries.

Relations between North and South have turned icy since Roh’s conservative successor Lee Myung-Bak took office. Pyongyang’s state media Sunday suggested Roh’s death was linked to the prosecutors’ “coercive investigation” — a view shared by some supporters of the late leader who believed the bribery probe was politically motivated. Tens of thousands of tearful mourners, many clutching white chrysanthemums in a traditional symbol of grief, flocked to Roh’s retirement village of Bongha near the southeast coast.

The funeral will be held there on Friday.