A hint about Sejong sparks regional outrage

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A hint about Sejong sparks regional outrage

President Lee Myung-bak yesterday came under instant fire from opposition politicians - particularly those from the Chungcheong region - for hinting at scrapping an election pledge to build a science and business belt in the area.

In a televised interview before the Lunar New Year holiday, Lee discussed the future of the project, in which 3.5 trillion won ($3.1 billion) will be invested by 2015 to create an international science complex with 3,000 professional jobs.

The Chungcheong region was to be the project’s site after Lee promised in his 2007 campaign to scrap a plan to build a mini-capital city in South Chungcheong’s Sejong City and instead build the science-business belt.

But the National Assembly shot down the Sejong City revision bill last June, and plans for the mini-capital are going forward. At the end of last year, the ruling Grand National Party passed a special law governing the science-business project without naming Chungcheong region as its home. Since then, local governments around the nation have competed to win the project.

“The special law will take effect on April 5,” Lee said. “When the selection committee is created, reviews and discussions will take place to decide [the site].”

“The project should be discussed by scientists,” Lee said, warning against a political decision. “I believe the committee will make a fair decision. That will also be beneficial to Chungcheong residents.”

Lee admitted that he had pledged to build the science belt in Chungcheong “to win votes.” But he said giving the project to Chungcheong was not an official election promise. In Korea, presidential candidates customarily submit a written list of promises to the National Election Commission.

South Chungcheong Governor Ahn Hee-jung, a Democrat, produced a copy of Lee’s pledge book yesterday in which the promise was included.

“When the president says the pledge was only to buy votes, the nation’s trust will collapse,” Ahn said. “The president must apologize for his lie.”

Lee’s remarks enraged the Chungcheong-based conservative opposition Liberty Forward Party. “I cannot accept the president’s betrayal,” said Lee Hoi-chang, LFP chairman.

“Our feeling is rage beyond disappointment,” Park Sun-young, LFP spokeswoman, also said. “Chungcheong residents were hurt by the attempt to scrap the Sejong City [mini-capital project], and once again, Lee broke another promise to the region. I am even more furious that he thinks it is okay to reverse his words by saying it was not recorded in the pledge book.”

The Grand National Party appeared to be baffled by the president’s remarks and the barrage of criticism ahead of the April by-elections and next year’s legislative and presidential elections.

“I asked the president what he really meant,” said Kim Hee-jung, presidential spokeswoman. “The president said he didn’t mean to scrap the pledge completely. He meant that the site would be selected practically.”

“The president was talking about principles in general,” Ahn Hyoung-hwan, GNP spokesman, said, “because it is a matter of intertwined interests among different regions.”

Representative Chung Doo-un, a member of the GNP’s Supreme Council who supports the science belt for Sejong City, criticized Lee’s remarks. “Chungcheong residents won’t just sit with folded arms,” said Chung.

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

Related Korean Article [중앙일보]

“과학벨트 공정하게 선정” … 충청 유치 논란 재점화
“대선 유세 때 충청도 가서 표 얻으려고…”

과학비즈니스벨트(과학벨트) 입지 선정을 둘러싼 논쟁이 1일 재점화됐다. 이명박 대통령이 신년방송좌담회에서 충청권 건립 검토를 백지화하는 듯한 발언을 하면서다.

이 대통령은 과학벨트 입지와 관련, “(특별법이 발효되는) 4월 5일 이후 발족할 추진위원회가 아주 공정하게 (선정)할 수 있을 것”이라고 말했다. ‘대선 때 (충청권) 기초자치단체 몇 군데를 찍어 과학벨트를 하는 공약을 하지 않았느냐’고 진행자가 묻자 “공약집에 있는 것은 아니다”고 답했다.

이에 앞서 이 대통령은 자신이 했던 공약과 관련해 “혼선을 일으킬 수 있는 공약이 선거(대선) 과정에서 있었다”고 했다. 그러면서 “선거 유세로 충청도에 가서 얘기했으니까 (내가) 표 얻으려고 (하는 데) 관심이 많았을 것이다. 그러나 국가 백년대계이니까 과학자들의 입장에서 생각하도록 하는 것이 맞다고 본다”고 말했다. …

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