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Roh to focus on economy, poor

Will rein in price spiral in housing

June 03,2003
Two days before his 100th day in the Blue House, President Roh Moo-hyun said yesterday that his priority task will be stabilizing the economy. In particular, he said he would rein in real-estate prices, which he called the “biggest enemy” of lower-income people, his core constituency.
“From now on, we will concentrate on stabilizing the economy and stabilizing the lives of the lower-income middle class,” Mr. Roh said. “In order to do that, I will crack down on skyrocketing real-estate prices.”
He also said, “The presidential culture has changed. The president should jump in to solve problems on important state issues.”
With a large pool of both Korean and foreign press gathered at the Blue House for a news conference ― the first under a new press-management system ― Mr. Roh pointed to 100 days of achievements in office. He was rained with questions about the economy, the North Korean nuclear crisis and the implication of his associates, including his elder brother, in a land deal that has aroused suspicion.
“I will speedily complete establishment of a governance system, so that three months from now, I can proceed with the promises that I have made to you, the voters,” he pledged.
Mr. Roh, who advocated growth-oriented policies during his presidential campaign, ruled out a short-term economic stimulus to firm up a fragile economy whose growth is now forecast at around 3 percent.
“Investment is a good way to secure potential growth base without affecting consumer prices,” he said.
Asked whether he was concentrating on the conglomerates, rather than the small- and midsized companies, Mr. Roh said, “The large conglomerates have the capacity for investment, which will naturally develop business for the small- and medium-sized businesses.
On North Korea’s nuclear program, Mr. Roh said, “Korean intelligence does not have conclusive information about the North’s possession of nuclear weapons.” But he said South Korea, in step with the United States, remained firmly committed to zero tolerance of North Korean nuclear weapons and to the large principles of peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue and to helping the North open up.
He apologized for the mistakes made during the first 100 days. Throughout the press conference, the president remained dignified yet on the defensive. His popularity has dropped from the 70 percent support he enjoyed when he took office on Feb. 25 to about 50 percent today.
Mr. Roh’s two predecessors gained great popularity in the early days of their regimes ― Kim Dae-jung with active moves to fight a financial crisis, and Kim Young-sam by launching a string of innovative steps.
Mr. Roh spent his 100 days juggling pressing international realities that distracted him from path-breaking domestic reforms he promised.
Yesterday, he responded aggressively to recent press reports about the land dealings of his brother, Roh Geon-pyeong, and his political backer Lee Gi-myeong.
“The granting of the business permit to build a facility for the elderly was issued by a Yongin mayor and Gyeonggi province governor who were both members of the opposition Grand National Party,” the president said. “But if there are further suspicions, we will look into them and punish any illegal action.”
He blamed the press for the controversy.
“How can you randomly report on suspicions without confirming the objectivity of it, and later back out if it is found wrong?” he protested. “It is an another matter whether the people involved are close to me or not.”
He also lambasted the press for writing down every bit of his “unrefined and inflammatory” language, saying that it has been the common practice in the past that journalists filter out the “leader’s words.”
“I will continue to have a relationship based on principles with the press,” Mr. Roh said. But he reiterated that his administration would take legal action against false reports.
On the dissension within his political party, the president evaded with a two-pronged answer. “What is important is that the orthodoxy of the Millennium Democratic Party as an opposition party should succeed, but at the same time, the party’s regionalism should be surmounted.”
On rumors of a cabinet reshuffle, and in particular that Deputy Prime Minister Yoon Deok-hong for Education is on thin ice, Mr. Roh said, “I do not believe that the frequent cabinet reshuffles of previous administration were successful.”


by Choi Hoon


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