Prime minister further muddles Sejong picture

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Prime minister further muddles Sejong picture

Prime Minister Chung Un-chan yesterday added more confusion to an already muddled political picture over the Sejong City development plan.

At one point he said the administration would consider returning to the initial plan to relocate government offices to South Chungcheong if it fails to secure National Assembly approval for its new blueprint by April.

Hours later, he flip-flopped and recanted the comment.

Chung’s remark about going back to the initial plan came in response to a question about the possibility of such a move put to him by Democratic Representative Kang Oon-tae.

As for when the Lee administration would submit the revision bills governing Sejong City, Chung said, “We will do it as soon as they’re ready,” adding that, “I hope passage won’t be delayed.”

Chung explained that the government wants to revise laws governing Sejong City as soon as possible because that is crucial for private investments in the project, which is already under construction.

Hours later, Chung reversed course. Asked by Grand National Representative Shin Young-soo to expand on his earlier remarks, Chung said, “What I tried to say was that a situation of failing to secure the legislature’s approval of the new plan is unimaginable and unfortunate.”

Chung’s changing remarks during the National Assembly’s inspection of the administration’s economic affairs also came as speculation grew about the possibility that the government will conduct a plebiscite to resolve the controversy.

Although the Blue House has said there was no such plan, Grand National Representative Shim Jae-chul said yesterday that “it is my understanding that the Blue House is reviewing the possibility as one of its options.” In an interview with Pyunghwa Broadcasting Corporation radio, Shim said he proposed the possibility of holding a plebiscite to a Blue House official about 10 days ago. “The Blue House’s denial is different from what I felt [at the time],” he said. Shim also said the plebiscite should take place ahead of the June local elections.

Another GNP lawmaker, however, opposed resolving the controversy with a plebiscite, saying the matter should be settled by the National Assembly. He also said a plebiscite would not only split the ruling party but also the nation.

While the Grand Nationals were divided over an “exit strategy” for the Sejong City controversy, President Lee yesterday tried to win local support for the new plan during his first trip to the Chungcheong region since the government announced the change.

North Chungcheong government officials briefed the president on the province’s vision for growth, and Lee said development of Sejong City will bring benefits to the neighboring province of North Chungcheong.

“When Sejong City is completed, the Ochang and Osong regions [in North Chungcheong] will receive the most benefits because the area has already been prepared as a science-business belt,” Lee was quoted as telling the officials by his spokeswoman Kim Eun-hye.

“I understand that some companies have already begun operations in North Chungcheong and more are waiting to follow suit. Because the nation already has too many free economic zones, the government has been careful with new designations. But Ochang and Osong of North Chungcheong are ready, so they should be designated as free economic zones.”

Lee also pledged to provide more support to develop the aging airport in Cheongju. “A plan to link Cheongju and Cheonan with an electric railway [of 37 kilometers] will also contribute to Cheongju Airport’s development,” Lee said.

By Ser Myo-ja []

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