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S. Korean President Promises 'Emergency' Economic Action


South Korea's President says his government will be in emergency mode in 2009 to deal with the global economic crisis. In a New Year's address to South Korean citizens, Lee Myung-bak also called for North Korea to adopt a modern attitude and negotiate in partnership with Seoul.

With sobering economic numbers emerging for 2008, and a challenging 2009 ahead, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak promised a hands-on approach to the economy Tuesday for the year ahead.

Mr. Lee promises his government will be in "emergency mode" to cope with slowing economic conditions around the world.

He adds, he will not fail for even a moment to stay aware of the economic situation, and promises to implement countermeasures to the negative forces weighing down the global economy. He calls on Koreans to unite in the face of the crisis.

President Lee's nationally televised New Year's address coincides with fresh data Tuesday that South Korea's exports - the lifeblood of this economy - plunged by more than 15 percent in December.

Mr. Lee promised the government would do more to help small and medium sized businesses to retain employees. He says he will press ahead with plans to privatize and scale back state-owned enterprises.

"Nobody predicted the start of the worldwide economic crisis," said Mr. Lee. "And nobody can predict when it will end."

However, he says he will do his best to fulfill optimistic forecasts of an improvement in the later half of 2009.

Although the economy dominated Mr. Lee's New Year address, he also promised to work at any time as a partner with North Korea. The North often calls the South Korean president a "traitor" for his refusal to provide unconditional aid and investment, as his two predecessors did.

The South Korean president says he is ready to have talks and work as a partner with Pyongyang - but says the North needs to start "accurately" understanding the current situation.

Mr. Lee says North Korea must give up what he calls the "outdated" habit of trying to divide South Koreans among themselves, and instead try to cooperate with Seoul.

North Korea has refused all of the Lee administration's dialogue offers, and has sharply curtailed previous North-South cooperation projects and border access. South Korean aid to the North is on hold pending better cooperation from Pyongyang on issues such as getting rid of the North's nuclear weapons.

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