Roh Tae-Woo, South Korean leader as it moved toward democracy, dies at 88

Japan's Emperor Akihito toasts with South Korea's President Roh Tae-woo during an imperial banquet hosted by the emperor at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan, May 24, 1990, in this photo released by Kyodo. via REUTERS
South Korean former president Roh Tae-woo, a decorated war veteran who played a pivotal but controversial role in the transition to democratic elections from rule by authoritarian leaders, has died, a Seoul hospital confirmed.

The 88-year-old died on Tuesday, a Seoul National University Hospital official said, without citing the cause of death.

Roh had been in poor health since 2002 when he received surgery for prostate cancer and was repeatedly hospitalised in recent years.

In the space of a few decades, Roh went from military coup conspirator to South Korea's first popularly elected president, before ending his political career in ignominy with a jail sentence for treason and corruption.

"I now feel limitlessly shameful for being a former president," Roh told the public in a tearful televised apology in 1995 for secretly amassing a $654 million slush fund while in office.