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South Korea Inaugurates Conservative Former Businessman as President


The former Seoul mayor who crushed his rivals in December's South Korean presidential election will raise his right hand and formally accept the job Monday. VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin previews the administration of President-elect Lee Myung-bak.

Several South Korean television dramas have been made about Lee Myung-bak's days as a hard-charging young executive. Monday's inauguration will give voters a chance to see if President Lee will begin to live up to his reputation.

The ceremony ends incumbent President Roh Moo-hyun's five-year term in office, and more broadly,10 years of left-of-center administrations. Mr. Roh's allies suffered in December's election because of widespread perceptions that he has mismanaged the economy.

Lee coasted to a double-digit victory in the election, after focusing his campaign on his business credentials as a former chairman corporate chairman.

But his reputation as a hard-driving leader was perhaps most firmly established by a project he pushed through as mayor of Seoul.

Despite initial ridicule, Lee managed to renew the Cheongyecheon stream, which runs through Seoul. In addition to beautifying the city, the project appeals to Korean nationalism, because the stream was paved over by Japanese occupiers in the early 20th century.

Mr. Lee's reputation has been challenged by allegations of financial fraud, but two separate investigations cleared him of wrongdoing.

While many South Koreans are likely to focus on his economic performance, international attention may be trained on Mr. Lee's changes to Seoul's policy toward North Korea.

He vows to adjust what conservatives here consider an overly generous and uncritical approach toward communist North Korea, exchanging it for a "businesslike" approach.

Mr. Lee says if North Korea verifiably gets rid of its nuclear weapons, he will work to transform its impoverished economy and raise North Korean per capita income to $3,000 a year within 10 years.

Mr. Lee says that includes a review of President Roh's promises for new inter-Korean projects, expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Over the past five years, South Korea's policy of engaging North Korea and giving it aid, has sometimes been at odds with United States' efforts to end Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs. In addition, President Roh struck a more independent tone than his predecessors in his government's relationship with Washington, which has been a close ally of Seoul since the end of World War II.

North Korea has refrained from explicitly commenting on Mr. Lee's victory. However, on Thursday, state media published a commentary about what Pyongyang describes as "far-rightist" political victories. The editorial said, "We are closely watching political developments in the South and there will come a time when we settle the score. They really should deeply consider why we're being so silent."

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