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Asia-pacific

Former president Roh Moo-Hyun dies, suicide note found

Video by Euna LHEE , Siobhán SILKE

Latest update : 2009-05-23

South Korea's former president Roh Moo-Hyun (pictured) fell to his death from a mountainside, police sources said. It is thought to have been a suicide. He was under investigation for taking bribes during his presidency.

AFP - Former South Korean president Roh Moo-Hyun, who was at the centre of a multi-million dollar corruption probe, plunged to his death off a mountainside Saturday in an apparent suicide.
   
Police said they were investigating whether Roh, who was in office from 2003-2008, killed himself. A former aide said the ex-leader jumped off a cliff after leaving a suicide note.
   
Roh, 62, had left home around dawn, accompanied by a bodyguard, and climbed a mountain near his retirement village of Bongha close to the southeast coast.
   
"He jumped off a rock in the mountain at 6:40 am (2140 GMT Friday)," former chief presidential secretary Moon Jae-In told journalists.
   
"He left a short suicide note addressed to his family members."
   
During his years in power Roh pursued closer ties with communist North Korea, leading to a summit in 2007 with leader Kim Jong-Il.
   
Roh was taken to a nearby hospital in very serious condition and moved again to Busan National University Hospital.
   
The hospital in the southeastern city said he was pronounced dead at 9:30 am. "Head injuries were the direct cause of his death. Many bones were broken, including ribs and pelvis," it said in a statement.
   
TV footage showed the rocky cliff from which Roh fell. Forensic experts were searching the pine-clad terrain.
   
"It has been so tough," state-run KBS TV quoted the suicide note as saying. "Many people have suffered hardship."
   
"Please cremate my body. Please erect a small tombstone for me at the village," the note reportedly said.
   
The corruption probe centred around a payment worth one million dollars to Roh's wife from a wealthy shoemaker, and a payment by the same man worth five million dollars to the husband of one of Roh's nieces.
   
Roh was questioned as a suspect by prosecutors on April 30 and they were considering whether to issue an arrest warrant.
   
He had apologised for his family's involvement in the case but had not admitted personal wrongdoing.
   
"I feel ashamed before my fellow citizens," Roh said at the time. "I am sorry to have disappointed you."
   
Roh, who won office partly on pledges to fight corruption, was the third former South Korean leader to be questioned in a graft probe.
   
Prime Minister Han Seung-Soo called an emergency cabinet meeting.
   
"I cannot stop feeling shock and sorrow at the news of former president Roh's death," Han said, according to his spokesman.
   
"I pray for the deceased and express deep condolences to the bereaved family."
   
A shocked President Lee Myung-Bak went ahead with a summit with the European Union but cancelled engagements for the rest of the day. He described the death as a national tragedy, Lee's spokesman said.
   
Roh worked his way up from a farming village to the presidency, but in many ways remained an outsider whose bluntness alienated both political opponents and the public.
   
In the 2002 presidential election he scored a dramatic upset victory for the liberals, partly by harnessing the power of the Internet to swell support.
   
After inauguration in early 2003, he described his priorities as the emergence of his country as an East Asian economic and technological hub and reconciliation with communist North Korea.
   
His summit in Pyongyang with North Korea's Kim was only the second in the history of the two countries.
   
Roh also sought a policy of "balanced diplomacy" by lessening dependence on long-time ally the United States.   
   
He pushed a generally liberal agenda, calling for a fairer distribution of wealth and characterising himself as a fighter for the underprivileged.
   
But his aggressive and provocative remarks, coupled with a lack of skill in building political ties, often led to confrontations.
   
After a year in office, Roh became the first South Korean president to be impeached for an alleged breach of election laws. He survived the impeachment and propelled his party to a sweeping victory in general elections in 2004.
   
But he was also faulted for economic mismanagement.
   
In February 2007 he quit the Uri party he had helped found, apparently acknowledging he had become a political liability in a presidential election year.
 

Date created : 2009-05-23

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