SEOUL — South Koreans looked on with curiosity and disgust Thursday as former President Roh Moo-hyun met with federal prosecutors investigating his role in a suspected bribery scandal.
People had little choice but to tune in: Roh's every move as he and his aides made a five-hour drive to the capital was captured by news helicopters hovering above the ex-president's motorcade.
There were minute-by-minute updates on TV, radio and online.
For South Korea, it was a made-for-television event that played out like the 1994 Ford Bronco escapade that transfixed Americans when police pursued O.J. Simpson along the freeways of Los Angeles.
There was Roh getting into his bus. There he was stopping for a freeway break. Now, folks, he's arrived at the Supreme Prosecutors Office.
He's walking into the camera lights! He's sipping lukewarm green tea!
Many Koreans felt like they had been through this before.
The onetime human rights lawyer and judge is the third South Korean president since 1995 to face a corruption investigation after leaving office. He is suspected of soliciting $6 million in bribes, allegedly paid to his wife and son, from a shoe magnate.
Roh, 62, has denied any involvement in influence peddling during his term, which ran from 2003 to 2008. He had campaigned as a politician above corruption.
Prosecutors were expected to question Roh late into the night. There has been no indication yet of whether he will be charged.
Roh's summons to Seoul set the stage for a day of national debate. Supporters lined the route to the capital waving sympathetic banners and yellow balloons, and the scene outside the prosecutors' office was tense as anti-Roh activists faced off against his allies.
The event began at 8 a.m. when Roh left his home near Busan, about 200 miles southeast of Seoul. Supporters rallied at his residence, waving banners that read, "Because we love you, Roh Moo-hyun," "Darkness cannot beat light," and "You are the president in our heart." Some threw yellow roses onto the ground.
Roh left in a silver van but stopped to address supporters, saying he was ashamed. "I have no face to show to the people," he said, adding, "I will be back safely."
He and a few aides later boarded a 42-seat tour bus.
Hours later, the bus -- followed by the news helicopters -- arrived in Seoul, where the tone of the banners was decidedly different.
At the prosecutors' office, it was bedlam as 1,200 uniformed police officers crowded outside with several hundred reporters and onlookers. Roh was met by scores of shouting activists, one waving a sign that read, "Arrest Roh Moo-hyun."
As Roh emerged from the bus, he was mobbed by a sea of bodies, with reporters shouting questions.
"Why did you say you had no face to show to the nation?" shouted one.
"This is something to be ashamed of," Roh replied.
After the ex-president went into the building, an official kept those outside posted about the goings-on inside.
No detail was too small.
Roh entered the VIP elevator. Roh was drinking tea.
"What kind of tea?" reporters asked.
Then Roh entered an interrogation room equipped with a bed, bathroom, couches and a conference table for what was expected to be hours of grueling questions.
Outside, many hunkered down for a long wait. There was the sound of yellow balloons popping.
Park is an assistant in The Times' Seoul Bureau.