08/19/2009, 00.00
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Korean bishops, world leaders and Kim Jong-il in mourning for the death of Kim Dae-jung

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
The staunch defender of "democracy and human rights" and promoter of the "policy of reconciliation with the North”, died yesterday at the age of 85. The North Korea’s "Dear leader" sends a message of condolence to the family; for the funeral he announces a "special delegation" from Pyongyang. The Conference of Bishops "shares the pain” of the South Korean people.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - The funeral of former President Kim Dae-jung, who died yesterday at the age of 85 from pulmonary complications, will be celebrated in the square outside the National Assembly, the South Korean parliament. The family has consented to the construction of an altar, where people can pay tribute to his memory. At the moment there is no official date for the funeral, governmental sources speak of "state funeral" in program for Sunday August 23.  

The death of Kim, a Catholic, staunch defender of the values of democracy and Nobel Peace Laureate in 2000 - following the historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il - has aroused deep sympathy among world leaders and South Korean citizens .

The conference of bishops sent a letter to family members. The official North Korean agency Kcna issued a communiqué signed by Kim Jong-il, in which the "Dear leader" celebrates "the steps taken" by the former president towards "national reconciliation" and announcing that a delegation will be sent to the funeral. Messages of condolence have been issued by China, Japan, the United States and European Union.

Yesterday, the Episcopal Conference South Korean (CBCK) sent a message of condolence for the death of Kim Dae-jung, expressing "deep regret" and sharing in "the pain of the Korean people." The bishops recall his "decisive steps towards justice and peace" while in the midst of "political suffering” and subjected to “death threats", which never prevented him from fighting for “democracy and the reconciliation of the two Koreas”.  "He was a devout Catholic – the statement add – who put into practice the word of God”.  “Once again - the message concludes - we Korean bishops deeply mourn the death of Kim Dae-jung-Thomas More (baptism name, ed), the former president, who has returned to God's arms and we pray for the eternal peace of his soul”.

North Korea announced the dispatch of a "special delegation" to Kim’s funeral of Kim. A letter sent by the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee - the semi official North Korean body in charge of relations between the two Koreas – to the Kim Dae-jung Peace Center, an NGO founded by the former South Korean president, explains that the delegation will be composed of five people and will arrive in Seoul on a direct flight from Pyongyang. The delegation will stop one day, but could extend it’s stay "if necessary".    

Analysts and experts on North Korean policy explain that the funeral of Kim Dae-jung could mark a "turning point" in relations between the two Koreas, frozen since the election of Lee Myung-bak as President of South Korea who has always opted for a firm stance against Pyongyang, shelving the "Sunshine Policy" promoted by Kim. "The North Korean people consider [Kim Dae-jung] a staunch defender of democracy and the first to contribute to the policy of reconciliation. He will be remembered as the most important among South Korean political leaders”, stresses Koh Yu-hwan, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University.

Yesterday, Kim Jong-il - through the official Kcna agency - sent a message of condolence to the family. " Though he passed away to our regret, - said the "Dear leader" - the feats he performed to achieve national reconciliation and realize the desire for reunification will remain long with the in the spirit of our people".  

"We have lost a great political leader," said the South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. "His commitment and aspirations for democracy and inter-Korean reconciliation will be long remembered by our people”. Barack Obama described him as "a courageous champion of democracy and human rights”. China also paid tribute to the memory of Kim Dae-jung, crediting him for having "improved" relations between Beijing and Seoul. Qin Gang, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Minister, assured that "the government and the Chinese people will not forget him".  

Hundreds of South Korean citizens also have promoted a candlelight vigil before a makeshift altar, erected near the City Hall in Seoul.

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