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Roh Marks First 100 Days in Office - 2003-06-03

South Korea's president is marking his first one hundred days in office Wednesday acknowledging he has made mistakes - both in handling the country's economic woes and the threat it faces from North Korea.

The first three months of President Roh Moo-hyun's term have been marked with criticism about his handling of the economy and North Korea. Mr. Roh, a relatively inexperienced politician elected last December, promised during a news conference he would concentrate on stabilizing South Korea's economy.

Despite an economic slowdown and increasing worries about North Korea's possible nuclear weapons program, urban South Koreans have seen housing prices soar during the past year. Mr. Roh called the surge in housing costs the biggest enemy to ordinary people.

Asking for time and patience, the president said he and his government have made more than a few mistakes, on both the economy and North Korea. Mr. Roh took office on February 25.

At a news conference on Monday, Mr. Roh said Seoul has not been able to verify North Korea's claims that it has nuclear bombs. But he said the South would never tolerate a nuclear-armed North. Mr. Roh adds that he would try to resolve the issue peacefully and says a multilateral approach to the issue is useful. Mr. Roh says North Korea remains a dialogue partner.

Despite Seoul's efforts to engage its communist neighbor, North Korea has broken several international accords by trying to develop nuclear weapons. The issue has raised tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and Pyongyang has repeatedly threatened Seoul with "disaster" if the South presses the matter.

The South Korean president's remarks come just days after he went on national television to reply to accusations he had been involved in corrupt real estate deals and used political influence in business. The allegations - made by political opponents - have been front-page news in South Korea for weeks.

Mr. Roh's supporters say it is too early to properly assess the president's performance.

The former labor lawyer is South Korea's fourth democratically elected president. Since democracy took root in the country in the late 1980's, a cut-throat political culture has emerged.

Mr. Roh makes his first visit as head of state to Japan on Friday. He will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to discuss the North Korean nuclear standoff and look for ways to improve relations between Tokyo and Seoul.

Many Koreans still resent Japan for continuing to gloss over its brutal occupation of Korea in the first half of the 20th century.