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Former S.Korean president Roh dead

Seoul, May 23, 2009

South Korea's former president Roh Moo-hyun, hounded for weeks over his links while in office to a widening corruption scandal, appears to have jumped to his death in the mountains near his home on Saturday, a top aide said.

Local media quoted a note left by Roh which seemed to confirm his intention to commit suicide, asking for his body to be cremated and saying that, alive, he would only be a burden.

The likelihood of suicide could boost public sympathy for opponents of his conservative successor president Lee Myung-bak, whose hard-line policies have largely overturned the more accommodating approach of Roh in key areas such as dealings with prickly North Korea and strike-prone labour unions.

'Former president Roh left his house at 5:45 am and while hiking on the Ponghwa Mountain, appears to have jumped off a rock at around 6:40 am,' Moon Jae-in, who was Roh's presidential chief of staff, said in a nationally televised statement.

The 62-year old former human rights lawyer, whose five-year term ended in February 2008, had in recent weeks become embroiled in a mounting graft inquiry, the result of confessions by a wealthy shoe manufacturer that he had bribed dozens of officials and politicians, as well as Roh's wife when she was First Lady.

'This is a truly unbelievable, lamentable and deeply sad event,' president Lee said in a statement issued by the presidential Blue House.

An official with the Busan University Hospital, in the country's southern port city near Roh's home and where he had been taken, told a televised news conference that the ex-leader had died from massive head injuries.

Yonhap news agency quoted police as saying Roh had fallen some 20 to 30 meters to his death from Owl Rock.

The hospital official said Roh had been taken to a local hospital before the university hospital in Busan, where he arrived with no vital signs and was pronounced dead at around 8.30 am (7:30 pm EDT).

A South Gyeongsang police officer said police were investigating the circumstances surrounding Roh's death.

Roh, unexpected winner of the 2002 presidential election, continued many of the policies of his liberal predecessor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Kim Dae-jung, including those aimed at trying to win over a hostile North Korea with unconditional aid.

Policies unpopular

But by the time he left office, he and many of his policies had become deeply unpopular.

Lee won the presidency by a landslide on promises to undo the programs of previous left-leaning governments, including to stop being so generous to the impoverished North unless it gave up developing a nuclear arsenal.

While Roh became only the second South Korean leader to have a summit with his North Korean counterpart, Lee has seen relations between the two Koreas all but freeze in the 15 months since he came to power, with Pyongyang now saying it plans a second nuclear test.-Reuters




Tags: South Korea | leader | dead | Suicide | Roh |

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