Funeral of activist Paek Ki-wan draws thousands of mourners

SEOUL-- A funeral ceremony took place early Friday for activist Paek Ki-wan, who devoted his life to the reunification of the two Koreas and many labor and social issues.

Paek died at Seoul National University Hospital on Monday at age 88. He had battled complications of pneumonia for a year.

Hundreds of mourners had been waiting outside the hospital, holding signs with the lyrics of "March for the Beloved," a famous pro-democracy movement anthem Paek wrote.

They watched the vehicle carrying his coffin slowly move past them and bid their final farewell to the fierce activist amid somber music.

One mourner, who said he had come from Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, said he felt "sad to see the last big person of the reunification movement go."

The funeral procession made its way through central Seoul, passing Paek's office dedicated to the reunification cause and a coffee shop he used to frequent.

A group of dancers in the traditional Korean outfit "hanbok" performed folk dance along the way, joined by scores of traditional percussion musicians, to honor Paek's lifelong passion for the country's traditional culture.

Led by Paek's statue, the procession arrived at Seoul Plaza around 11:30 a.m. when his funeral ceremony took place. By then, the number of mourners grew to around a thousand.

To maintain social distancing, people sat on spaced-out chairs and sang together in remembrance of his fearless spirits and dedication to the poor and weak.

"He lived his whole life as a member of the country's working class, and he remained as their closest friend even after he became a gray-haired old man," said Kim Se-kyun, honorary professor at Seoul National University who led Paek's funeral committee.

Paek was buried at Moran Memorial Park in Namyangju, east of Seoul. More than 6,000 people in total joined his funeral ceremony, according to the committee.

Meanwhile, Seoul metropolitan government said it plans to fine the committee for setting up a memorial altar on Seoul Plaza without permission despite a ban on its use.

The city government will also look at whether the altar and the ceremony violated antivirus restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic, a city official said.

Seoul Plaza has been banned from use since last February due to the pandemic. The capital area is also under Level 2 social distancing measures, which include a ban on assemblies of 100 or more people.

Source: Yonhap news Agency

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