SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Thousands of mourners gathered at the lawn outside parliament Thursday to say their farewells to late former President Kim Young-sam, whose landmark 1992 election victory ended decades of military rule and ushered in a series of reform measures.
Kim, a towering figure in South Korea politics who led fights against a succession of dictatorships from the 1960s through the 1980s, died of a severe blood infection and acute heart failure on Sunday. He was 87.
A televised state funeral was held on the National Assembly lawn, where Kim was sworn in as president in early 1993 for a single five-year term. He was to be buried at the state cemetery in Seoul later Thursday.
"We are here together to bid a final goodbye to former President Kim Young-sam, who was a huge mountain that oversaw our country's democratization," Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn said at the start of the ceremony.
Mourners, dressed in black and braving cold wind and flurries of snow, sat in silence below a flag that flew at half-staff, many of them sobbing or wiping away tears with handkerchiefs.
There has been outpouring of public mourning for Kim, whose achievements have been largely ignored since he left office in early 1998 after accepting what many South Koreans still recall as a humiliating international bailout during the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.
More than 160,000 people have paid respects for Kim at makeshift mourning sites across the country, while TV stations and newspapers have run feature stories every day since his death.
Since beginning his political life at age 25 as the youngest-ever member of parliament in 1954, Kim spent most of his career as an opposition member. His courageous, outspoken criticism against back-to-back dictatorships led by President Park Chung-hee — the father of current President Park Geun-hye —and his successor Chun Doo-hwan earned him a reputation as a pro-democracy fighter but also made him the subject of repeated political suppression.
As president, Kim reshuffled top military generals loyal to past dictators, brought transparency to the country's murky financial system and took other reform measures.
But he left the office in disgrace after his government accepted a US$58 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund in late 1997 amid the Asian foreign exchange crisis. Thousands of companies collapsed, stripping millions of people of their jobs in South Korea.
Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.