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Friday, May 29, 2009

South Koreans pay respects to former leader

(CNN) — With their nation on high alert after threats from North Korea, grief-stricken South Koreans poured out onto the streets Friday to pay final respects to former leader Roh Moo-Hyun, who committed suicide last week.

The motorcade accompanying Roh’s body was on its way to the South Korean capital Seoul on Friday morning, making a five-and-a-half-hour journey from his home in the village of Bongha.

People wept openly as Roh made his last journey in a flower-draped hearse. The funeral is to take place later Friday.

Roh, who served between 2003 and 2008, jumped from a hill behind his house last Saturday, government officials said. His death came amid an investigation into a bribery scandal that had tarnished his reputation.

However, tens of thousands of people have visited memorial shrines for Roh, laying white chrysanthemums in a traditional show of grief and leaving cigarettes on the altars to remember a man who was reported to have taken up smoking during the investigation.

A guard of honor covers the coffin of deceased former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun with a national flag at Roh's hometown Bonghwa village in Gimhae, about 450 km (280 miles) southeast of Seoul, May 29, 2009. The public funeral of Roh is to be held at Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul on Friday.

A guard of honor carrying the picture of deceased former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun departs from Roh's hometown Bonghwa village in Gimhae for the public funeral to be held in Seoul, May 29, 2009. The public funeral of Roh is to be held at Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul on Friday.

The Chosun IIbo reported that nearly 1 million mourners have flocked into Bongha Village since the news of Roh Moo-hyun's death. But the town remains clean and orderly thanks to the hard work of volunteers, many of whom come from outside Bongha. Some light candles, some greet guests entering the village, guiding them to the right lines to stand in, and some pick up trash on the ground. Others prepare and serve food all day, all night. There are countless people who just drop by after school or give a hand for a few hours. And there are also groups of people from different organizations as some come to the town after their normal daily business. To show appreciation for the volunteers' hard work, former prime minister Han Myeong-sook made a visit to Bongha to offer thanks. Roh's body will be moved to Seoul, where the final funeral service will be held at Gyeongbok Palace on Friday.

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