06/04/2009, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA
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Lee Myung-bak asked to apologise for former President Roh’s suicide

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
More than a hundred professors from Seoul National University complain that human rights are not respected in the country and its democracy and press freedom are in regression. A survey indicates that most South Koreans want the current president to apologise for his predecessor’s death. The day after the funeral, police tear down a makeshift memorial dedicated to Roh and make arrests among the crowd.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – The suicide of former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun on 23 May is becoming a political hot potato. Intellectuals, university professions and ordinary citizens want current President Lee Myung-bak to apologise for backing what they consider politically motivated corruption charges against the former leader. For the country’s intelligentsia, South Korean democracy as well as its press freedom and independence are in regression.

Some 124 professors at Seoul National University issued a statement yesterday demanding a government apology for a dubious investigation against Roh, which led to his suicide.

For them the allegations concerning the former president constituted “political retaliation against the previous government;” through a media campaign, they “humiliated the former president and his family”.

They also enumerated a series of issues which for them represent “democratic retrogression” undermining the independence of the court system.

Foe the academics, the problem is not political or ideological differences, but a failure to honour fundamental human rights and democratic principles.

More than 60 professors at Chung-Ang University issued a similar statement. Scholars at other universities are expected to do the same.

Mr Roh and his wife were under investigation for alleged kickbacks from Park Yeon-cha, head of Taekwang, a big shoe manufacturing company. Roh’s wife, Kwon Yang-sook, was scheduled to be interrogated on the day of his suicide and the prosecutor had already prepared the papers charging her with corruption. With her husband’s death, charges were dropped.

According to a survey by Hankyoreh and Research Plus conducted the day after Roh’s funeral, more than half of South Koreans (56 per cent) believe President Lee ought to apologise for the death of the former president against 37.5 per cent who are against an apology. Similarly, 51.6 per cent believe members of the Justice Ministry and the Prosecutor General should resign over this incident.

The South Korean president on Wednesday rejected the resignation of the country's top prosecutor, who had offered to quit amid a growing political row over Roh’s suicide.

Roh’s untimely death gas also had an impact on public opinion which has also shifted dramatically against the current administration. At present 21.7 per cent support the Democratic Party against 18.7 per cent for the ruling Grand National Party (GNP)

On 30 May South Korean police in anti-riot gear tore down a makeshift memorial shrine with incense spontaneously set up to honour the late former president. They also proceeded to indiscriminately arrest people among the crowd that continued to pay tribute to the former leader. 

One eyewitness said police moved in without warning and tore down the structure with the result that the former president’s picture was thrown into the street.

Another eyewitness said the government lacked common sense failing to share the sense of loss felt by ordinary South Koreans over Roh’s death.

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