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Ex-Pres. Kim Dae-jung Dies at Age 85

Posted August. 19, 2009 08:45,   


Former President Kim Dae-jung, who played a leading role on the country’s modern political stage, died yesterday. He was 85.

He was hospitalized at Yonsei Severance Hospital in Seoul with pneumonia July 13. Kim was connected to an artificial respirator due to acute respiratory distress syndrome resulting from pneumonia and pulmonary thromboembolism, which caused his blood vessels to clot.

He was pronounced dead at 1:43 p.m., yesterday.

Hospital director Park Chang-il said, “First, he was admitted to the hospital due to pneumonia, but his heart stopped working due to multiple organ failure, and this impaired the functions of his kidneys, liver and lungs. We did not perform CPR since there was no possibility of extending his life.”

The Public Administration and Security Ministry will conduct funeral procedures after consultations with Kim’s bereaved family under the State and National Funeral Service Act.

Incumbent President Lee Myung-bak expressed his condolences, saying, “We lost a great political leader. His aspirations and accomplishments for the nation’s democratization and inter-Korean reconciliation will long be remembered by the people. I hope his lifelong determination will contribute to inter-Korean reconciliation and social integration.”

Both the ruling and opposition parties released statements expressing condolences over Kim’s demise.

The former president’s life was a microcosm of Korea’s checkered political history. In the 1970s and 80s, he and fellow activist Kim Young-sam formed the Donggyo-dong and Sangdo-dong factions and became the country’s two leading politicians.

Kim Dae-jung also narrowly escaped death several times while fighting military dictatorships. On Aug. 13, 1973, he was kidnapped by government agents in a Tokyo hotel but survived.

After the 1980 coup d’état, Kim Dae-jung was sentenced to death on charges of conspiring to conduct a rebellion but released from prison due to U.S. pressure. He later went to live in America as an exile.

His ability to overcome mounting difficulties earned him comparisons to the honeysuckle, which represents unyielding determination.

Along with Kim Young-sam and Kim Jong-pil, Kim Dae-jung formed the “Three Kims” that dominated Korean politics for decades.

While running for president for the fourth time in 1997, Kim Dae-jung cooperated with former adversary Kim Jong-pil, who had ordered Kim Dae-jung’s death in the 1970s, to create a coalition that resulted in the country’s first horizontal change of power.

As president, Kim Dae-jung helped to overcome the currency crisis that hit Korea just before the 1997 presidential election.

Relations between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-pil broke down due to the former’s “sunshine policy” of engaging North Korea. Kim Dae-jung went on to visit Pyongyang in June 2000 to hold the first inter-Korean summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

In 2000, Kim Dae-jung became the first Korean to win the Nobel Prize for his efforts toward inter-Korean reconciliation. After the Roh Moo-hyun government took over, however, reports surfaced that Kim Dae-jung gave a huge amount of money to Pyongyang in exchange for holding the summit.

yongari@donga.com likeday@donga.com