Former Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil dies at age 92
SEOUL, June 23 (Yonhap) -- Former Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil, one of South Korea's most influential politicians in the 1980s-90s who was often dubbed the "eternal No. 2" for his closeness to power and failure to reach the top, died Saturday. He was 92.
Kim is believed to have died of old age. He was taken in an ambulance to Soonchunhyang University Hospital in central Seoul from his home in Shindang-dong in the morning, but he was already dead on arrival, hospital officials said.
An aide said Kim died at 8:15 a.m.
Born in 1926, Kim graduated from the Korea Military Academy and played a key role in the 1961 military coup led by then-Gen. Park Chung-hee, who rose to president and ruled South Korea for 18 years before his assassination by his spy chief in 1979.
Kim was known as a major planner of the coup.
While Park was in office, Kim served in various key posts. He created the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) and served as its first chief from 1961-1963. Kim also served as prime minister from 1971-1975 and five terms as a member of the National Assembly.
Kim was out of politics for most of the time that former President Chung Doo-hwan was in office until 1988 following his 1979 military coup, as Chung's junta accused him of illegally amassing wealth while Park was in office.
Kim resumed his political activities in 1987 as South Korea's democratization began with the introduction of a direct presidential election system. He unsuccessfully ran for president later that year.
Kim was elected to the National Assembly the following year and served three more terms as a lawmaker until 2004, becoming one of the three people on record with the most National Assembly terms at nine.
Kim enjoyed popularity based on support from his hometown in the central Chungcheong provinces. He was one of the influential "three Kims" in South Korean politics, together with late former Presidents Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung.
In 1990, Kim Jong-pil merged his party with the then ruling party of President Roh Tae-woo and another conservative opposition party led by Kim Young-sam in what is widely known as the three-party merger. The merger ultimately helped Kim Young-sam win the presidency in 1992.
In the following 1997 presidential election, Kim Jong-pil ran for president but later formed an alliance with Kim Dae-jung and helped him win the election. After Kim Dae-jung took office, Kim Jong-pil served as prime minister from 1998-2000, solidifying his image as the "eternal No. 2."
Kim Jong-pil left politics after unsuccessfully running for the National Assembly in 2004.
Cheong Wa Dae expressed condolences, saying Kim's legacy will remain for a long time.
"The hand stains and footprints that the deceased left in the modern history of South Korean politics won't be removed easily," Yoon Young-chan, senior presidential secretary for press affairs, said in a message to reporters.
"The empty space the deceased left will look even bigger than his (big) presence (in South Korean politics). We will be missing him a long time," he said.
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon also prayed for the soul of Kim.
Lee described Kim as "the very person who embodied the honor and disgrace" of South Korea's modern history, apparently referring to Kim's involvement in the country's turbulent history since the 1960s, including a military coup.
"As an individual, he had a lot of capabilities and attractiveness. He also left me precious memories," Lee said. "I pray for his soul."
The ruling and opposition parties also expressed condolences.
"We mourn the passing of former Prime Minister Kim who left a big footprint on our history, and pray for the soul of the deceased," said Rep. Park Beom-kye, a senior spokesman of the ruling Democratic Party.
Park said Kim's life had a mixture of "light and shade."
"Even though a genuine assessment of his political adversity should be deferred to generations to come, the deceased will be remembered as South Korea's modern history itself," he said. "We once again join the people in mourning the passing of the deceased."
The main opposition Liberty Korea Party highlighted Kim's role in the country's economic development.
"The deceased played big roles in the Republic of Korea safeguarding liberal democracy and building one of the economic powerhouses through economic development," said Rep. Kim Sung-won, a spokesman of the party. "We deeply mourn the passing of a great politician in our modern history and pray for his soul."
Source: Yonhap News Agency