Lee warns against ganging up on rivers project

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Lee warns against ganging up on rivers project


President Lee Myung-bak meets with newly-elected heads of 16 metropolitan cities and provinces at the Blue House yesterday. Lee urged the mayors and governors not to gang up on his administration’s four major rivers restoration project, calling his flagship program “a matter of policy, not a matter of politics.” [YONHAP]

President Lee Myung-bak urged newly elected mayors and governors to not gang up on his administration over the four major rivers restoration project, calling his flagship program “a matter of policy, not a matter of politics.”

Lee invited newly elected heads of 16 metropolitan cities and provinces to the Blue House yesterday to exchange views on regional issues. Only six of the new local government heads, elected last month, were members of Lee’s Grand National Party, while eight were from opposition parties and two have no party affiliation.

According to Blue House spokeswoman Kim Hee-jung, each of the 16 officials took turns to appeal for central government support to increase prosperity in their regions. The most contentious issue at the meeting was Lee’s controversial rivers project, and South Gyeongsang Governor Kim Du-kwan and South Chungcheong Governor An Hee-jung voiced their opposition to it, according to Kim’s briefing.

The government launched the 22 trillion won ($19 billion) project last November to clean and refurbish four rivers - the Han, Nakdong, Geum, and Yeongsan - in a bid to help prevent floods and attract tourists. Critics say the plan will devastate the environment and ecosystem.

Following his party’s defeat in the local elections last month, Lee vowed to review policy priorities, but he made clear yesterday that the rivers project will be pushed forward. Ahead of Wednesday’s by-elections, liberal opposition parties agreed Monday to form a political alliance to defeat the GNP in the races and block the project.

“My region is located in the lower stream of the Nakdong River,” South Gyeongsang Governor Kim was quoted as telling Lee. “Although the government is spending a large amount of money on this project to improve water quality, control flood and create jobs, South Gyeongsang residents are seriously concerned about it.”

Kim said Lee should meet with opposition parties and civic groups to listen to their opposition and resolve the confrontation.

Kim, who ran for office promising to block the project, followed through on his pledge last week by halting construction on it in his region, at least temporarily.

South Chungcheong Governor An asked Lee to give him some time to reconsider the project along the Geum River.

“I don’t want it to become the source of a political fight, but it is clear that the project has been the source of conflict among the people,” An said. “The political leadership of the president and the governor need to resolve this issue. To this end, I hope the president will give some time so that a consensus can be created slowly.”

According to Kim, Lee told the local government heads that he welcomes opinions about the projects in their region - but their region only.

“If the mayors and governors will speak about the problems and opinions about the rivers in their regions, I will sincerely listen to them,” Lee was quoted as saying by the spokeswoman. “But it is wrong to gang up against the rivers project in other areas. When officials present opinions specific to their regions, then I will listen to them.”

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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