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Full text of Lee's statement on death of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi

All Headlines 13:58 September 02, 2012

SEOUL, Sept. 2 (Yonhap) -- The following is the full text of a statement South Korean President Lee Myung-bak issued to mourn the death of Ethiopian Prime Minister. Meles died of an unidentified illness on Aug. 20 after ruling the African nation for 20 years.

On August 20, I was greatly shocked by the unexpected news that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had passed away, and I was deeply saddened by the news. My mind was only focused on Typhoon Bolaven heading toward the Korean Peninsula at that time, but I could think back on how the Prime Minister and I had forged our friendship. I vividly remember him as a warm-hearted and passionate gentleman.

I met him for the first time in 2009 at the G20 London Summit. During a short break, he came to me and said that he had read a lot about Korea's industrialization. He also said that he regarded Korea as a role model for Ethiopia. His warm smile and soft voice made me feel very close to him even though we met for the first time. It was not long before I realized that there was a burning passion behind his gentleness. That was how our friendship began. In the short three years since then, we have met on as many as eight different occasions. Every time we met, we had heart-to-heart discussions on a wide range of issues, including global peace and the development of Ethiopia, Africa and developing nations. By doing so, we could come to understand one another more deeply.

Prime Minister Meles was an extraordinary, passionate leader who made unceasing efforts for the sake of the future of Ethiopia and Africa as a whole. At the age of 20, he quit school and threw himself completely into the cause of freedom and democracy of Ethiopia. Since Ethiopia was democratized in 1991, he has demonstrated outstanding leadership and helped the country to achieve political stability and economic development. He also worked hard to foster human resources through education and to eradicate poverty and diseases. Such endeavors made it possible for Ethiopia to continue to make the remarkable achievement of double-digit economic growth, transforming the country into one of the most dynamic nations in Africa. Last year, he explained to me about the Five Year National Growth and Transformation plan and made a pledge to surely pull off an economic miracle just like Korea did. I can never forget how resolute he was for his country's progress.

The prime minister was also a global leader who made efforts not only for the sake of Africa but for developing nations as a whole. He endeavored to address regional conflicts in Somalia and Sudan. On top of this, he showed keen interest in the development of Africa and particularly in green growth. Given all this, it is not a surprise at all that the Prime Minister was recognized and respected as a leader representing Africa in the international community. While shaking hands at the G20 Seoul Summit, Prime Minister Meles' eyes were brimming with tears as he thanked me for proposing development as an agenda topic for the world's poorest countries. His tears were the tears of Africa and the whole developing world.

Prime Minister Meles was also special to the Korean people. His knowledge of the process of Korea's economic development was deeper than that of most Koreans, and he attached more value to the process than Koreans do. Ethiopia is a brotherly nation, which dispatched a total of 6,037 warriors to the defense of Korea during the Korean War. The prime minister expressed his appreciation to me for the Korean Government's contribution to the project of erecting a monument in commemoration of Ethiopia's Korean War veterans. Instead, I should be the one to extend appreciation to the prime minister. As a small token of the appreciation for the sacrifice of Ethiopia and the prime minister's caring concern toward Korea, I invited 300 descendants of Korean War veterans to Korea for training. I am confident that they will be nurtured into workers who serve as the mainstay in turning the prime minister's dreams into a reality, thereby carving out a better future for Ethiopia.

Last year, I made a state visit to Ethiopia at the invitation of Prime Minister Meles, becoming the first Korean President to do so. The prime minister was gracious enough to accommodate my wish to actually engage in one-day volunteer service in Kebena and Gare Arena villages. It was the most rewarding experience in my life. I also met young students at Addis Ababa University. The prime minister said that my direct dialogue with the students would be the best experience the students could have. There I met many future Meleses who will carve out the future of Ethiopia and Africa. On the day of my departure, Prime Minister Meles said, "President Lee is my close friend and mentor. The people of Ethiopia regard the people of Korea as brothers and sisters." At that time, I was going to say something to the exact same effect. But he took the words right out of my mouth.

Ethiopia is the birthplace of humanity and a splendid ancient civilization. The country is home to a resilient people who maintained independence even at the turn of the 20th century characterized by international upheavals. The country is also a charter member of the United Nations. Sadly, Prime Minister Meles passed away at a time when Ethiopia is poised to take a leap economically. But his all-consuming passion to achieve prosperity for his country will remain intact. He left behind profound inspiration and visions for his homeland and people. I firmly believe that his living legacies will grow into a big tree in the heart of each Ethiopian, enabling the country to stand tall in the center of world history again. The Republic of Korea will continue to honor all the promises it has made to Ethiopia and stand by its people.

The passing of Prime Minister Meles is being mourned across the globe. We all have just lost a great leader of Ethiopia and a preeminent advocate for Africa and the developing world. On this occasion, I offer my deepest condolences to the people of Ethiopia. I pray for the repose of a truly bright mind who lived an intense and moving life -- my close friend.

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