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Profile: South Korean President-Elect Roh Moo-hyun - 2002-12-19


Roh Moo-hyun, a liberal from South Korea's ruling Millennium Democratic Party, rose to prominence as a human rights lawyer defending students accused of treason during South Korea's military rule in the 1980's.

The youngest son of peasants from the country's southeast, the 56-year-old Mr. Roh had no formal education beyond high school. He chose law as his path out of poverty and studied alone at night to pass the bar exam.

In the 1980s, he built a reputation as a lawyer whose cases challenged the authority of then-military dictator Chun Doo-hwan. In 1987, Mr. Roh was arrested and suspended from his law practice on charges of supporting a strike by workers at a shipyard.

Mr. Roh continued his defense of the oppressed as a pro-democracy politician elected to the National Assembly from Busan in 1988. As a novice lawmaker, he made headlines with his participation on a legislative panel looking into the Chun government's past offenses.

In the early 1990s, Mr. Roh signed a petition demanding an end to U.S. military presence in South Korea, but has since softened his position. He now says he wants to revise the law governing the 37,000 U.S. troops in his country to give Seoul more jurisdiction over them.

Mr. Roh supports President Kim Dae-jung's "sunshine policy" of engaging communist North Korea - despite assertions by the United States that Pyongyang has a nuclear weapons program. Mr. Roh says he will be aggressive in reconciling with North Korea and will strive for a more equal relationship between South Korea and the United States -- its closest ally.

Mr. Roh is married to his village sweetheart, Kwon Yang-sook. They will celebrate their 30th anniversary next year.

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