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Godfather of S. Korean democracy movement dies at 64

SEOUL, Dec. 30 — Kim Geun-tae, a former leading South Korean democracy activist and prominent liberal politician, died Friday from a brain disease. He was 64.

Under the dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s, Kim was repeatedly jailed and tortured for his opposition against the regimes in support of democracy and labor rights.

While in prison, Kim received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and was designated a prisoner of conscience by the Amnesty International.

After being released in 1988, Kim, one of the nation's best-known political prisoners, was elected to the National Assembly in 1996 and twice won reelection.

Kim served as health minister in 2004 under the left-leaning government of late President Roh Moo-hyun and later served as head of the then ruling party.

Once considered a potential candidate to succeed Roh as president, Kim retreated from public view after he decided not to run in the 2007 race.

He had since served as a standing advisor for the main opposition Democratic Unity Party (DUP), mediating opposition camp's efforts to put a united liberal front ahead of next year's parliamentary elections.

Kim had battled Parkinson's disease for the past five years, apparently attributable to torture of the past. A month ago, he was diagnosed with symptoms of cerebral vein thrombosis and died of complications from pneumonia and kidney disease in a Seoul hospital.

Political parties spoke with deep respect of Kim's fight for democracy against military dictatorship.

"Kim was the living witness to democratization of South Korea. Kim himself was the history of democracy," the DUP spokesman Oh Jong-sik said in a statement of condolence.

Kim is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter. (PNA/Yonhap)

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