Saenuri calls for Blue House talks on fatal outbreak

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Saenuri calls for Blue House talks on fatal outbreak

The ruling party on Wednesday asked the presidential office and the government for an emergency consultation to address a deadly outbreak of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), a proposal that may halt the political standstill resulting from President Park Geun-hye’s dissatisfaction with the Saenuri Party.

“We propose an emergency party-government-Blue House meeting to tackle the MERS outbreak,” said Rep. Kim Young-woo, a senior spokesperson for the Saenuri Party. “We have promised the people that we will do our best to support them.”

He cited that the number of MERS patients had skyrocketed overnight, and that public fear had snowballed due to groundless rumors.

“The most imperative task right now is containing the outbreak,” he said.

Criticizing the government for failing to protect Korea’s citizens, Kim added that the ruling party felt responsible and was therefore seeking to meet with the Park administration and the Blue House as soon as possible to address the situation.

Rep. Cho Hae-jin, the deputy floor leader, said Wednesday that Saenuri leaders had agreed earlier in the morning that it was imperative to consult with the Blue House and the government and that he would contact the presidential office to arrange a meeting. The proposal was made amid a strained relationship between the Blue House and the ruling party.

After the Saenuri agreed with the opposition earlier this month on revising the law governing the legislature in order to pass the president’s ambitious project to reform the civil servants’ pension plan, Park showed her displeasure for the arrangement, questioning the ruling party’s negotiation skills.

Park loyalists also demanded that Rep. Yoo Seong-min step down from his post as floor leader to take responsibility for the result.

On Tuesday, Senior Presidential Secretary for Public Affairs Kim Sung-woo said that there seemed to be no point in continuing consultation with the ruling party on state affairs.

However, after the party proposed a meeting, Yoo pressured the presidential office to cooperate on addressing the outbreak, rather than complain about politics.

“It was immature for him to say that,” he said, referring to Kim’s remarks.

During its meeting of party leaders on Wednesday morning, Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung also tried to use the situation to mend rifts.

“I’ve heard a lot of talk about a conflict related to the party, but there is no factional fight between Park loyalists and other party members. Right now, a united party is extremely important,” he said.

Rep. Lee Jung-hyun, a key ally to President Park and a senior leader of the ruling party, added in an interview with YTN radio on Wednesday that addressing the MERS outbreak was more imperative than discussing Yoo’s resignation.

“The party’s problems are not the priority,” he said. “There are many urgent, complicated tasks to be addressed, such as the MERS outbreak, and we must resolve those first and then talk about the party later.”

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), meanwhile, blasted the Park administration for the virus’s rapid spread, demanding that the Blue House directly tackle the outbreak. They added that it would fully cooperate with the government to stop the epidemic’s further spread.

“The government’s easygoing approach and incompetent handling have caused this crisis,” NPAD Chairman Moon Jae-in said. “The people’s insecurity, fear and distrust of the government have reached a peak. There is no time to waste. The government must use all possible resources and prevent the worst possible situation.”

Moon demanded that President Park personally oversee the situation as well as make public the names of the areas and medical institutions affected by the outbreak.

The NPAD has created its own a special task force to counter the outbreak, appointing Rep. Choo Mi-ae to lead it. “To prevent further spread, quarantine measures must work properly,” Choo said. “An emergency system including a call center must be created as soon as possible. The opposition party will cooperate with the government at all costs.”

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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