MB takes dig at pro-North politicos

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MB takes dig at pro-North politicos

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President Lee Myung-bak and key government officials walk to the memorial monument in Seoul National Cemetery yesterday to pay tribute to fallen soldiers on the country’s 57th Memorial Day. [YONHAP]

President Lee Myung-bak ratcheted up the rhetoric against North Korean sympathizers yesterday as the nation celebrated Memorial Day, which honors those killed during the Korean War and other conflicts.

“Upholding the will of all fallen heroes who devoted themselves to defending liberal democracy, the people of the Republic of Korea will never tolerate anyone attempting to deny liberal democracy,” Lee said in a speech at a Memorial Day event held at the Seoul National Cemetery in southern Seoul.

Lee’s remark, following a radio address late last month in which he criticized jongbuk groups, or those who blindly follow North Korea, came amid growing political wrangling over how tolerant the National Assembly will be of pro-Pyongyang legislators.

The controversy started with the election of two lawmakers from the second largest opposition party, the Unified Progressive Party, who are known for their support of the North’s juche, or self-reliance, ideology. It was fanned by an incident in which Lim Soo-kyung, a former student activist-turned-lawmaker with the main opposition Democratic United Party, called a 28-year old North Korean defector a “traitor” in an alcohol-fuelled shouting match in a restaurant.

Lee Hae-chan, a DUP representative running for the party’s chairmanship, recently inserted himself into the controversy by saying that it was diplomatically inappropriate for the South to intervene in the North’s human rights situation.

“There are people among us who want to destroy the constitutional order of the Republic of Korea,” President Lee said at yesterday’s ceremony, “but we also have the highest portion of the youth in the world who are willing to fight on the frontline if a war breaks out.”

The DUP, which has warned of a “new McCarthyism” by the Lee administration and the ruling party, issued a statement yesterday saying Memorial Day honors not only the war dead but also those killed in the pro-democracy movement of the 1970s and 1980s, many of whom were leftists.

“We urge the Lee Myung-bak administration and the Saenuri Party to deeply reflect on what kind of Republic of Korea the patriotic martyrs and pro-democracy martyrs wanted to safeguard and create,” the statement read. Koreans conventionally consider Memorial Day to honor fallen Korean soldiers.

Meanwhile, the president cited Myanmar as a model for North Korea to emulate to open up and begin democratization. Lee visited Myanmar early last month, the first state visit by a South Korean president since 1983, when a North Korean bomb in its capital of Yanggon killed 17 senior South Korean officials, including the vice prime minister and foreign minister, and nearly killed then-President Chun Doo-hwan.

“A wind of liberalization, reform and opening is an irreversible trend.”

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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