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Lee Hee-ho, Influential Former First Lady of South Korea, Dies at 96

Category: Asia,World

In 1973, while he was in exile in Japan, Mr. Kim was kidnapped by South Korean spy agents from a hotel room in Tokyo. He later said his kidnappers had attached a weight to him aboard a boat and were about to throw him into the sea when the United States government intervened.

In 1980, under another military dictator, Chun Doo-hwan, Mr. Kim was sentenced to death on sedition charges. Ms. Lee’s stepson, Kim Hong-il, was also arrested and tortured. Ms. Lee helped organize a successful international campaign for American and other foreign officials to press for her husband’s release.

Mr. Kim finally won election in 1997 in his fourth presidential bid.

As president from 1998 to 2003, Mr. Kim championed a “sunshine policy” of promoting political reconciliation and economic cooperation with North Korea. Ms. Lee accompanied Mr. Kim in 2000 to the first inter-Korean summit meeting, flying with him to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, to meet with Kim Jong-il, the country’s leader at the time and the father of Kim Jong-un, the current leader.

Ms. Lee later became the first South Korean to meet Kim Jong-un when she attended Kim Jong-il’s funeral in Pyongyang in 2011.

The South Korean news media speculated that North Korea might send a delegation to Ms. Lee’s funeral, which is scheduled for Friday. Such a visit could help restart official dialogue between the two Koreas, which has stalled since the breakdown in February of a summit meeting in Vietnam between Kim Jong-un and President Trump.

Ms. Lee said her best moment in life was when her husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his pro-democracy efforts and his conciliatory policy toward North Korea. In her will, Ms. Lee said she would pray for “a peaceful reunification” of the Korean Peninsula, her family said.

Ms. Lee is survived by her son, Hong-gul, and stepson Hong-up. Kim Hong-il, who never fully recovered from the injuries he sustained under torture, died in April.


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