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Kim Dae-jung, former President of the Republic of Korea, passed away August 18th at the age of 85. His legacy, a vibrant and healthy democracy in South Korea, lives today. President Barack Obama expressed America's condolences to President Kim's family and to the Korean people:
"President Kim risked his life to build and lead a political movement that played a crucial role in establishing a dynamic democratic system in the Republic of Korea," said President Obama. "His service to his country, his tireless efforts to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula, and his personal sacrifices on behalf of freedom are inspirational and should never be forgotten."
Born on Haui-do, a small island in the province of Jeollanam-do, Kim Dae-Jung was a farmer's son. Through enterprise and hard work he became president of a successful shipping company. He entered politics in 1954 and was elected to South Korea's National Assembly in 1961, but, 3 days after the election, a military coup dissolved the legislative body. He became an activist in the country's democracy movement.
In 1971, he was an opposition candidate for president against South Korea's authoritarian ruler President Park Chung-hee. Kidnapped by South Korean security agents in 1973, he narrowly escaped assassination. Banned from politics and imprisoned, he was sentenced to death by a military court under the regime of Chun Doo-hwan in 1980. The United States intervened on his behalf and his sentence was commuted to 20 years in prison. He was later allowed to leave the country and settled for a time in the United States.
In 1985 he returned to South Korea as a principle leader of the democracy movement. On February 25, 1998 he was inaugurated as the fifteenth President of the Republic of Korea. During his presidency he worked tirelessly for reconciliation and peace on the Korean Peninsula. In 2000, he took part in the first North-South presidential summit with North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang. In recognition of his efforts to promote reconciliation between the two Koreas, President Kim was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In recent years, President Kim worked closely with governments and democracy advocates throughout Asia to promote peace and respect for human rights.
Kim Dae-Jung's vision and courage continues to inspire others in many lands now engaged in the struggle for justice, democracy, and freedom.