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Founder of 'Moonies' church dies aged 92

Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, has died at a retreat in South Korea at the age of 92. The church - best known for its mass weddings - has millions of followers around the world.

Self-proclaimed messiah Moon had been suffering with complications from pneumonia, having been taken to hospital in mid-August.

He was taken to the retreat last week when it became apparent to his family and followers that there was little chance he would get better.

Followers of the religion are widely known as "Moonies," although this term is often considered derogatory. While their numbers have declined in recent years, at its height in the early 1990s the church was believed to have as many as 7 million members in 180 countries.

Moon had led a relatively busy public life until recently. In March, he officiated at one of the types of mass weddings for which the church became famous - for 2,500 people.

Singles matched with marriage partners

The marriage ceremonies, at which thousands of people are typically matched with their spouses by the church, have been taking place since 1961.

Moon also conducted a religious service for more than 15,000 believers in July.

While critics have condemned the church as a heretical and dangerous cult that indoctrinates its followers, Moon claimed he was chosen by Jesus Christ as savior to promote peace and harmony.

Moon was born in North Korea in 1920 and was tortured and sent to a labor camp for preaching before being freed and eventually setting up his church as a refugee in the South. Although he was an ardent anti-Communist, he returned to the North in 1991 and met the state's founder Kim Il-Sung to discuss business ventures and the issue of Korean unification.

In 1981 he was indicted for tax evasion in the United States and served more than a year in prison.

Moon is survived by his wife - the pair being called "true parents" by their followers - and 10 of their 13 children.

rc/av (APF, Reuters)