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Divisions deepen after president’s address on Sejong

Nov 30,2009
Demonstrators consisting of residents of Yeongi County, South Chungcheong, cast eggs and beverage cans on Saturday at the bus holding Prime Minister Chung Un-chan and members of a private public committee for redrawing the blueprint for Sejong City. The committee members were on a visit to the city for a talk with the residents. [YONHAP]
Ruling and opposition parties were further divided after President Lee Myung-bak made public his intentions last Friday to revise the blueprint of the Sejong City project.

Leadership of the ruling Grand National Party accelerated their support, while the opposition Democratic Party and Liberty Forward Party expressed strong objections.

The Blue House said Lee’s two and a half hour TV appearance titled “Conversation with the people” served as a “chance for both Lee and the Korean citizens to take one step closer to each other.” Spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said the Blue House will move forward with efforts to persuade those opposing a new concept for the city that was originally meant to house nine ministries and other government institutions in South Chungcheong.

President Lee will tour the Gyeongsang and Jeolla provinces this week to try to calm rising sentiment against the government’s attempt to redraw the plans.

Those regions fear that special incentives the government will provide to Sejong will discriminate against them.

Lee’s TV appearance was his first public address to the nation regarding Sejong City in two years. Thus far, Prime Minister Chung Un-chan has carried the ball on the administration’s move to modify the blueprint.

GNP Chairman Chung Mong-joon made a surprise visit to the press room at party headquarters yesterday, asking reporters to “help Koreans and residents of Chungcheong better understand the President’s true feelings.” He criticized the DP for making a “political attack” against the administration. The top opposition party became “the ruling party [during the former administration] by taking advantage of Sejong,” he said.

DP leader Chung Sye-kyun said at a press conference that the party can “never accept the Lee administration’s unilateral nullification of the Sejong project, its forward push of the four river project and its decision on budget plans without discussion.”

“We won’t slacken our reins to the struggle,” he said. “We will fight while working and work while fighting.”

Chung also noted that the President’s pride and self-righteousness have gone to the extreme and his capacity to control national affairs has reached its limit. Lee “should get out of the fantasy that ‘What I am thinking is right but the citizens don’t understand’ and stop causing division and conflict among the Korean people.”

Lee Hoi-chang, leader of the Liberty Forward Party, based in the Chungcheong provinces, told the press yesterday, “We will protest against any measure to revise [the Sejong project] through an act of disobedience.” All 17 members announced a day earlier they would resign should their position not be accepted.

Meanwhile, Park Geun-hye, who has been spearheading a move inside the Grand National Party against modifying the Sejong plan, had no specific comments yesterday on President Lee’s apology, saying only, “What I have been saying has already been reported in news media.”

Political observers say she believes public displeasure with President Lee could virtually divide the Grand National Party - although it is already an open secret that she leads a faction inside the ruling party that insists upon proceeding with the original developing plans for Sejong.

While serving as chairwoman of the party under the former Roh Moo-hyun administration, Park endorsed the Sejong project and she has consistently claimed the project is a “matter of political trust.” Lee and Park were party rivals for the presidential nomination before Lee was picked in August 2007.

On Saturday, a day after Lee’s public address, a private government committee for laying out the Sejong blueprint, led by Prime Minister Chung, faced fierce protests from hundreds of residents in its first visit to the construction site. Some demonstrators threw eggs and cans at the bus committee members were in. Some shouted, “Let’s catch and beat Chung and impeach President Lee.” They burned a scarecrow symbolizing Lee, Chung and the Grand National Party.

Security guards for Chung used an umbrella to block the eggs. One committee member was hit while getting out of the bus. Police arrested six protesters who climbed and stood on a riot police bus. A meeting with representatives of the residents was canceled due to the protests and Chung instead met with the chairman of the local council and pledged to foster Sejong into a new growth epicenter that combines science, education and economy, as he had repeatedly done in previous meetings with others.

Chung said the government plans to link Sejong to Daedeok and Osong, adjacent cities that specialize in scientific and biotechnological studies, respectively. He reiterated his stance that the he has “no plans to downsize or nullify growth plans for the city.”


By Seo Ji-eun [spring@joongang.co.kr]
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