SEOUL, South Korea (AP) A sea of wailing mourners filled the streets of Seoul for the funeral Friday of former President Roh Moo-hyun, whose suicide six days earlier amid a deepening corruption probe plunged South Korea into grief and anger.
Heads bowed, thousands took part in a solemn ceremony in the courtyard of the 14th-century Gyeongbok Palace before the hearse carrying Roh's body headed to a grassy plaza outside City Hall for emotional public rites attended by a reported 500,000 people. Riot police later moved in as the crush of mourners delayed the hearse from leaving the capital.
Supporters of the late former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun cry as his funeral hearse passes by following a memorial service at the Seoul City Hall Plaza Friday, May 29, 2009 in Seoul, South Korea. Roh committed suicide Saturday by leaping to his death from a cliff near his hometown.
A woman closes her eyes during the public funeral of former South Korean president Roh Moo-Hyun on May 29, 2009 in Seoul, South Korea. Roh, 62, jumped to his death on May 23, 2009 while hiking in the mountains behind his rural southern home. Roh was embroiled in a multi-million dollar corruption case in relation to receiving more than 6 million USD from the Taekwang Group.
A huge crowd gathers during the public funeral of former South Korean president Roh Moo-Hyun on May 29, 2009 in Seoul, South Korea. Roh, 62, jumped to his death on May 23, 2009 while hiking in the mountains behind his rural southern home. Roh was embroiled in a multi-million dollar corruption case in relation to receiving more than 6 million USD from the Taekwang Group.
The portrait of former South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun leads the hearse as mourners gather for a tribute during a funeral ceremony in downtown Seoul on May 29, 2009. Thousands of weeping morners packed the streets here on May 29 to pay their last respect to former President Roh Moo-Hyun amid a massive outpouring of grief and tight security.
South Korean honor guard carry a coffin containing the body of former President Roh Moo-hyun for a funeral service near his house in Gimhae, South Korea, Friday, May 29, 2009. Roh committed suicide Saturday by jumping off a mountain cliff overlooking his home.
Police dispatched some 21,000 officers to quell any protests by Roh supporters who accuse conservative political opponents led by President Lee Myung-bak of driving the liberal former leader to his death with the bribery investigation.
The criticism comes as Lee faces an increasingly belligerent North Korea, which just two days after Roh's death carried out a nuclear test in a move widely condemned as a violation of U.N. resolutions.
Roh, 62, died May 23 after throwing himself off a cliff behind his home in the southern village of Bongha. Roh, president from 2003 to 2008, recently had been questioned about allegations he and his family accepted $6 million in bribes during his presidency.
He denied the bribery accusations, but they weighed heavily on a man who prided himself on his record as a "clean" politician in a country struggling to shake a deeply rooted culture of corruption.
The suicide stunned the nation of 49 million, where the outspoken Roh _ a self-taught former human rights lawyer who swept into office on a populist tide _ was celebrated as a leader for the people and was a favorite among young South Koreans for standing up to Washington.
Though many were critical of his antiestablishment ways, others rallied around his efforts to promote democracy, fight corruption and facilitate rapprochement with North Korea.
Roh "lived a life dedicated entirely to human rights, democracy and fight against authoritarianism," Prime Minister Han Seung-soo said at the palace funeral. "Our people won't forget what you accomplished for the country and the people despite a number of hardships."
Last weekend, Roh supporters refused to let Han and others from the ruling Grand National Party pay their respects in Bongha, with some dousing politicians with water and pelting them with eggs.
Roh supporters have called the probe against him "political revenge," and posters accusing Lee of driving Roh to his death plastered the walls of one Seoul subway station.
"I've never been so ashamed of being a citizen of this country _ a country that kills its own president," said Won Seung-tae, 52, of Seoul. "It feels like we've lost all respect in pushing each other to extremes."
Opposition lawmakers jeered Lee as he and his wife approached the altar Friday to pay their respects.
"President Lee Myung-bak, apologize!" opposition lawmaker Baek Won-woo yelled, jumping to his feet and cursing Lee before security guards hauled him away. "This is political revenge, a political murder!"
A somber Lee looked back momentarily and hesitated before laying a white chrysanthemum on the altar and bowing before Roh's portrait. Lee had called Roh's death "tragic" upon learning of the suicide Saturday.
Roh's death triggered a wave of grief across South Korea, overshadowing the nuclear threat from North Korea's test blast Monday.
At City Hall, sobbing mourners wore yellow paper hats with images of Roh and waved yellow handkerchiefs as they watched the funeral on large monitors. The plaza was awash in yellow, Roh's campaign color.
"I respected him. He was a person who never compromised with injustice," said Chang Min-ki, 30, a yellow scarf tied around his neck. "I feel like I've lost everything."
The funeral procession began at dawn in Roh's hometown. Villagers lined Bongha's streets as the hearse blanketed with white chrysanthemums departed for the capital.
More than 2,500 were invited to a formal ceremony in the courtyard of the stately palace in the heart of ancient Seoul, where Roh's portrait sat on a bed of 1 million chrysanthemums laid in the shape of a Rose of Sharon, South Korea's national flower.
Roh's suicide note, in which he begs his wife and two children, "Don't be too sad" and describes his suffering as "unbearable," was read aloud.
Buddhist monks and Catholic nuns chanted prayers as part of the multifaith ceremony reflective of South Korea's changing modern history, where Confucian mourning traditions mix with Christian, shamanistic and Buddhist rites.
Roh's prime minister, Han Myung-sook, apologized for "not protecting" the late leader.
"We are sorry, we love you and we were happy with you," said Han, South Korea's first female prime minister, her voice trembling with emotion. "Please rest in peace."
At the plaza outside the City Hall that Lee built, performers in hemp mourning outfits carried out traditional Confucian rites designed to send Roh's spirit to heaven and to comfort his soul. As his hearse moved through the crowd, mourners showered it with airplanes and cranes made of yellow origami.
As some screamed "Down with Lee Myung-bak," riot police began moving in to break up the crowd before the hearse was able to depart.
Roh's ashes were to return to his village to be buried with a small gravestone as he wished.
TV showed the funeral live, as well as footage of Roh in more lighthearted moments: serenading his wife with a guitar, feeding ducklings and taking his granddaughter for a bike ride.
South Koreans mourned online, too, with some portals carrying live broadcasts of the funeral and users flooding bulletin boards and Roh's own Web site with hundreds of thousands of condolence messages.
"You didn't bow to any other country but you bowed to us citizens. You'll always be the father of the nation," wrote one user, Choi Jae-chul. "Rest in peace and please protect South Korea from heaven."
Associated Press writers Jae-soon Chang, Ji-ah Kim and ShinWoo Kang contributed to this report.