SEOUL, - In a first for a sitting South Korean president, Yoon Suk Yeol attended a memorial ceremony for the late President Park Chung-hee at the Seoul National Cemetery on Thursday. Yoon’s attendance marks a historic break with precedent since the annual event was first held in 1980.
According to a new release by the Yonhap News Agency, Yoon, who has previously expressed admiration for Park, attended the event immediately upon his return from a trip to the Middle East. "In the current global multifaceted crisis, we must rekindle the spirit and achievements of former President Park Chung-hee and use them as a stepping stone to lead the Republic of Korea forward," Yoon said during the ceremony. The official also stated that Yoon's attendance "underscores the commitment to upholding the essence of politics, as embodied by former President Park Chung-hee."
Park Chung-hee, who seized power in a 1961 military coup and ruled South Korea for 18 years, remains a polarizing figure in the nation's history. His leadership is often credited with laying the groundwork for South Korea’s economic transformation, but his authoritarian rule has also been criticized for stifling democracy. Park was assassinated in 1979.
High-profile participants in Thursday’s ceremony included Park's eldest daughter, ousted former President Park Geun-hye, attending for the first time in 11 years. Yoon and the younger Park met for the first time in approximately 17 months, since Yoon's inauguration last May. They have met three times overall.
The ceremony was also attended by several key figures from the conservative bloc, including Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon, leader of the ruling People Power Party (PPP), and Ihn Yohan, the chief of the PPP’s new innovation committee.