By Kim Rahn
Countless mourners bade farewell to the former President Roh Moo-hyun at his funeral service in Seoul and in his rural hometown in South Gyeongsang Province, Friday.
Roh's coffin, covered with the national flag, "taegeukgi", was carried out of the community center in his hometown of Bongha Village at 5 a.m. His son offered food and alcohol to the deceased and bowed, with other family members following suit.
After the 10-minute ritual, Roh's son-in-law held the portrait of Roh and made a tour of his home and the house of his birth nearby, with family members following, so that the deceased could make his farewells to the places of memories.
His body was then taken from the village in a hearse decorated with white chrysanthemums at 6 a.m. to travel to Seoul. Mourners flew yellow paper airplanes as the former president departed ― yellow was the symbolic color Roh used during his 2002 presidential election.
The funeral ceremony started at Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul at 11 a.m. Some 2,500 dignitaries attended the funeral. Among them were President Lee Myung-bak, former presidents Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung, cabinet ministers, politicians, foreign ambassadors to Seoul and 800 citizens.
"We are here to bid farewell to former President Roh Moo-hyun, who spent his life fighting for human rights, democracy, and the end of authoritarianism and regionalism. He was a true people's president", Prime Minister Han Seung-soo said.
Former Prime Minister Han Myung-sook - whose voice was breaking with emotion ― also said: "Sorry for not having protected you. We love you, rest in peace".
A video clip was presented to highlight Roh's life. His family offered flowers to him, as did President Lee and other dignitaries. A gun salute closed the 90-minute ceremony.
The hearse then moved to Seoul Plaza where hundreds of thousands of citizens were waiting for "noje" ― a street memorial service. The crowd wore yellow caps and held yellow ribbons and balloons and packed the main street from Gyeongbok Palace to Seoul Plaza.
Poet Do Jong-hwan hosted the street ritual to pay tribute the dead. The rite started by invoking the spirit of the deceased. The bereaved family also joined in the rite.
TV host Kim Je-dong
presided over the pre-ceremony for the street rite, and singers Yang Hee-un, Yoon Do-hyun paid tribute to Roh with songs. Poets Ahn Do-hyun and Kim Jin-kyeong offered memorial poems.
, a university student, held yellow balloon in one hand and a yellow paper saying "I'm sorry I couldn't protect you" and cried watching the pre-ceremony. "I can't believe that he is really gone", she said.
After the ritual, the hearse moved to Seoul Station. Citizens followed the hearse and the family, with some holding funeral streamers.
The remains were carried to Yeonhwajang, a crematory in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, for cremation as Roh wished.
His ashes were put in a wooden urn and were to be returned to his hometown late at night and laid at Jeongtowon, a Buddhist temple behind his house. They will be buried at a place in the mountain near the home, after a Buddhist ceremony to be held 49 days after his death. A Buddhist belief says that the soul of a dead person is reincarnated after 49 days.
Roh died Saturday at the age of 62, after leaping from a cliff above his rural hometown, amid a bribery investigation that tarnished his legacy as an anti-corruption fighter. He served as the country's leader from 2003 to 2008.