08/18/2009, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA

South Korea mourns death of Kim Dae-jung

President from 1997 to 2003, during the years of military dictatorship was repeatedly arrested and sentenced to death. Devout Catholic, staunch defender of human rights and Nobel Peace Laureate in 2000, he promoted the Sunshine policy aimed at normalizing relations with the North. Historic summit in June 2000 with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Seoul (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Kim Dae-jung, 85, former South Korean president, died in the early afternoon today at Severance Hospital in Seoul, where he was hospitalized for weeks with pneumonia. He died at 1:42 pm local time from cardiovascular collapse caused by complications arising as a result of the disease. "At 1:35 in the afternoon his heart began to give problems – the hospital spokeswoman said - and it stopped beating a few minutes later, despite our attempts to resuscitate”.

 

President of South Korea from December 1997 to 2003, Kim dedicated his life to establishing democracy in the country after decades of military leadership as well as the reunification of the two Koreas. He survived several assassination attempts, was a devout Catholic and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for promoting the "Sunshine Policy" aimed at improving relations with Pyongyang. The meeting in June 2000 with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the first inter-Korean summit by the war of 1950-53, remains a milestone in modern history.

The military regime had branded Kim Dae-jung as a dangerous subversive, he was imprisoned, tortured and sentenced to death. The former president was sentenced to exile twice and on numerous occasions was put under house arrest. It was his Catholic faith that helped him in the most difficult and obscure moments of his life.

 

Kim, born January 6 1924, a date which remains uncertain, once wrote about how terrible it is to face the death penalty as a political prisoner and how this experience marked his faith. In a postcard sent to his family on 21 November 1980, during one of the periods of imprisonment, he underlined: "I used to believe until now that I have a certain amount of faith. But now in a situation where I am close to death, I experience everyday how fragile my existence is...I get angry about my lack of faith".

His election to the presidency of the country in 1997 marked a turning point in the history of South Korea and the battle for human rights. He was able to convey the same values and ideals to his successor, Roh Moo-hyun, whose death last May 23 had deeply marked him. Greeting the news of Roh’s death, he said to feel as if "half of my body has crumbled."

In 2000, after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Kim said: "Throughout my life, I lived with the conviction that justice wins. Justice may fail once in life, but ultimately always triumphs over the course of history".

 

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