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Foreign Issues Expected to Dominate Agenda of New S. Korean President - 2003-02-25

Roh Moo-hyun becomes South Korea's new president in a few hours.

Many voters expect Mr. Roh not only to reform the country's financial and business world, but also redefine its relationship with the United States.

Roh Moo-hyun, a self-taught human rights lawyer, succeeds Kim Dae-jung as president Tuesday. He takes the oath of office in a televised ceremony, attended by South Korean political leaders, and foreign dignitaries, including the Japanese prime minister and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Mr. Roh has pledged to revive efforts to reform the way the country does business by streamlining the banking system, making foreign trade easier and ending corruption.

One young man says he thinks Mr. Roh has the ability to create a cleaner political and business environment, which will become a good example to the world.

Although Mr. Roh wants to focus on domestic issues, international affairs, and North Korea, in particular, may dominate his agenda in the weeks to come.

International concern has been rising since October, when the United States said North Korea had admitted having an illegal nuclear weapons program. The United States has been working to build international pressure to push Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions.

In response, North Korea has threatened war and has withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

U.S. Secretary of State Powell will be meeting with President Roh later Tuesday, to discuss a strategy to end North Korea's nuclear programs.

Mr. Roh, however, has already been critical of the U.S. approach, and says he thinks a more conciliatory tone should be used. He wants the United States to talk directly with North Korea, and stresses he would not agree with any U.S. effort to destroy the North's nuclear facilities with a military strike.

Something of a populist, the new president spent much of his life as a human rights activist and opposition politician.

He won election in large part by appealing to younger voters disenchanted with South Korea's long alliance with the United States. Many are particularly angry over incidents involving U.S. troops based in the country, such as an accident last year that killed two school girls.

This university student says she feels pain in her heart because she thinks the relationship with the United States is unfair. She hopes it can be changed to better protect Koreans.

Mr. Roh has said he wants the United States to realign its forces in South Korea and consolidate its facilities. However, he has said he does not want the troops pulled out of the country.