SEOUL, South Korea - A national funeral for Roh Moo Hyun, the scandal-tainted former president who killed himself last weekend by jumping off a cliff, brought tens of thousands of South Koreans to the streets of Seoul yesterday to weep, to wail, and to damn the current president for shaming Roh into suicide.
Roh's death and his wrenching suicide note have in the last seven days shifted public attention away from his alleged involvement in a bribery scandal. Instead, it has zeroed in on what many in the vast crowd of mourners described as a politically motivated prosecution.
"I could not help but take pity on Roh as I watched how he was manhandled by prosecutors," said Ahn Joon Suk, 52, a banker in Seoul, who voted against Roh. "There was no sense of respect and courtesy a president deserves."
In South Korea, where corruption and democracy often go hand in glove, there is a long history of former presidents and their families coming under criminal scrutiny from prosecutors loyal to their new leader.
When Roh, 62, leaped to his death last Saturday from a cliff near his rural home, prosecutors were investigating allegations that during his presidency he and members of his family accepted $6 million in bribes from a wealthy shoe manufacturer. Roh left office last year after a five-year term.
At the funeral in the courtyard of a 14th-century palace, President Lee Myung Bak, Roh's successor, was jeered by opposition lawmakers as he approached the late president's coffin with a flower.
At least 15,000 riot police assembled in central Seoul to control the crowd, whose behavior was mostly solemn and whose numbers were estimated by police at 180,000.
Roh was a self-taught human-rights lawyer who rose to power as a champion of students and left-leaning citizens who opposed the military dictatorships of the 1980s and sought a more equitable share of the country's rising wealth.
But by the time he left office early last year, Roh's presidency was judged a failure by most South Koreans, primarily because of desultory economic growth and what many viewed as his too-soft policy toward North Korea.
On the day he died, his wife was scheduled to meet with prosecutors. Roh had earlier spent about 13 hours with them.
He did not admit personal wrongdoing, but the investigation was a humiliating blow to a populist politician who had sold himself to South Koreans as a "clean" advocate for the little guy.