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South Korean Ruling Party Selects Presidential Candidate

South Korea's Millennium Democratic Party has selected a former human-rights lawyer as its candidate for the December presidential elections. Opinion polls indicate Roh Moo-hyun faces an uphill battle, even though he is from the party of incumbent President Kim Dae-jung.

As expected, the Millennium Democratic Party selected its come-from-behind frontrunner for the race to succeed President Kim, who is barred by South Korea's constitution from seeking another five-year term.

Mr. Roh, who is 55, says he would follow President Kim's policy of engagement with North Korea. Mr. Roh also has said he favors maintaining the current joint-security agreement with the United States, but is expected to pursue a foreign policy that is less tied to U.S. policy.

Mr. Roh, a Cabinet minister in Mr. Kim's administration, taught himself the law and passed the exam to become a lawyer, despite having only a high school education. His opponents say the human-rights and labor activist attorney is strongly biased against the wealthy. Mr. Roh says such opinions misinterpret his views.

The original front-runner in the MDP's primary race, Rhee In-je, dropped out 10-days ago, after Mr. Roh pulled ahead of him in the primaries that began March 9.

The MDP had held a 20-percentage point lead in opinion polls. But scandals involving President Kim's three sons have allowed the opposition Grand National Party to overtake the MDP in the latest surveys.

President Kim on Friday apologized to the people of South Korea for the controversy involving his sons, saying he feels great anguish about the allegations of influence-peddling. It was the first public statement from the president about the allegations.

The influence-peddling story has dominated the headlines in South Korea. Political pundits in Seoul say that even though Mr. Kim's sons have not been charged with a crime, the controversy hurts the MDP's chances to retain the presidency.

The MDP's new candidate has been silent on the president's family woes. Observers warn that the scandal could undermine Mr. Roh's good image, seen to be his biggest asset in the campaign.