A whirlwind schedule for 1st day of president’s term

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A whirlwind schedule for 1st day of president’s term

President Park Geun-hye started her first day in office with a jam-packed schedule, working almost round the clock.

At midnight yesterday, Park picked up the phone to call Jung Seung-jo, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for a checkup on the nation’s security.

In the conversation, Park said “This is President Park Geun-hye. I appreciate all of your support including yours, Mr. Chairman. I know working conditions are tough in the winter but please make sure the military remain vigilant so the people can be at ease.”

As she was having that midnight dialogue, 17 representatives - one for each administrative region - rang the Bosingak Bell in Jongno, central Seoul, where roughly 300 people gathered, along with a representative of defectors from North Korea.

At around 1 a.m., the military installed a hotline communication system in Park’s home in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul, through which she could make a phone call directly to the military and the Blue House’s presidential office if an emergency arose in the next few hours.

Park made her first public appearance as the 18th president at 10 a.m., when she left her house, where she has lived for the last 23 years, for the the presidential compound.

When she showed up outside, a group of her neighbors presented her with two 10-month-old purebred Jindo puppies. Park, known for her love of dogs, hugged the white puppies and said, “I will bring them to the Blue House and raise them well.” In reward, she gave the neighbors a small, potted pine tree.

The first place she visited yesterday was the Seoul National Cemetery in Dongjak, southwestern Seoul. In a black winter coat, she paid respects to soldiers who died during the 1950-53 Korean War, along with 35 families of soldiers and former patriots and veterans. In a visitors’ book, she made a note, “I will open a new era of hope through economic revival, the happiness of the people and cultural prosperity.”

That note summed up the main themes of her inaugural address at the swearing-in ceremony in front of the National Assembly in Yeouido, western Seoul, at 11 a.m. The new president, known for her own style in fashion, changed into an olive green A-line coat and black slacks.

About 70,000 people attended the largest-ever inauguration ceremony.

When she promptly arrived for the swearing-in at 10:55 a.m., the first person she greeted was Lee Myung-bak, who left the Blue House Sunday.

When the ceremony ended, Park followed Lee until he got into his car. She bowed when his car pulled away.

Two other former presidents also attended the ceremony, Kim Young-sam, the 14th-term president, and Chun Doo Hwan, who served both the 11th and 12th terms. Lee Hee-ho, former first lady of the late President Kim Dae-jung, also shook hands with Park at the ceremony. However, Roh Tae-woo, an ex-president who is receiving medical treatment at home, and Kwon Yang-sook, first lady of the late President Roh Moo-hyun, did not attend.

After Park’s inaugural address, a celebratory concert was kicked off by Yang Bang-ean, a Korean-Japanese musician who played “Arirang Fantasy,” a “new-age” song that mixes several versions of “Arirang.” Born to a South Korean father and a mother from Sinuiju, North Korea, Yang was a North Korean living in Japan until he obtained South Korean citizenship in 1999.

“Yang has a unique life story showing the painful phase of Korean modern history,” an official who helped prepare the ceremony told the JoongAng Ilbo. “We invited Yang so that his presence could represent Park’s idea of national unity.”

Rapper Psy also showed up at the concert as the final performer, and he led 70,000 attendees in the now-familiar “Gangnam Style” horse dance.

Park rode a black limo for her inaugural parade from the National Assembly to the Seogang Bridge, near Sinchon, standing in a sun roof and waving all along the route.

At around 12:30 p.m., Park appeared at Gwanghwamun Square, central Seoul, wearing a red hanbok traditional Korean attire. A giant tree was placed at the square and 365 colorful pouches were hanging with letters addressed to the new president inside. Park picked three of them and read out their contents.

Park finally headed to the Blue House, where she had lived 15 years before leaving at the age of 27 when her father was assassinated in 1979.

At the presidential compound, Park told local residents who gathered, “Everything feels different.”

But she didn’t have long of a break. First, she officially submitted a motion to the National Assembly that she approves the nomination of Jung Hong-won as prime minister. At around 2:20 p.m., Park awarded certificates of nomination to three senior and some working-level presidential secretaries.

After that, a string of foreign diplomats and dignitaries greeted her every half-hour until around 7 p.m., including: Yingluck Shinawatra, prime minister of Thailand; Taro Aso, Japan’s deputy prime minister; and Liu Yandong, a Politburo member of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee.

Her official schedule ended with a dinner with the foreign dignitaries between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. However, Park had to stay up late into the night working on her deadlocked plan for government restructuring and receiving other policy briefings from her transition team.

By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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