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S. Korean President Returns to Office, Pledges to Revive Economy - 2004-05-15


On his first full day back on the job after a court overturned his impeachment, South Korea's President Roh Moo-hyun pledged to revive the country's sluggish economy, apologized for the impeachment crisis and sounded a conciliatory note to his political opponents.

Speaking to the nation Saturday in a live broadcast, President Roh vowed to avoid domestic political conflicts and said he will listen to the will of the people and pursue conciliatory politics.

Mr. Roh says political reform should now be led by the National Assembly, not by himself. He says he will listen to opposition parties as much as he can and will concede on issues when necessary.

In a subdued speech in front of the presidential Blue House, the president said he again wanted to apologize deeply to the public. He said the overturning of the impeachment does not mean he is free of political and moral responsibility.

South Korea's Constitutional Court on Friday ruled that some of the actions cited as cause for his impeachment on March 12, including incompetence and corruption, had not been proved. The court did rule that Mr. Roh had violated election laws, but said the violations were not serious enough to warrant his being kicked out of office by the National Assembly.

Public opinion surveys show that the public feels reviving the South Korean economy should be the reinstated president's top priority.

Mr. Roh said he is determined not to allow current economic difficulties to cause people pain or undermine growth, and said he will avoid makeshift measures in his efforts to improve the economy.

He did not make specific comments about the North Korean nuclear issue or other national security and diplomatic issues, such as the planned dispatch of South Korean troops to Iraq.

The president returns to a vastly different political landscape from the one he left two months ago. Public anger over the impeachment, which was pushed through by opposition parties, propelled the pro-government Uri Party into the dominant spot in the National Assembly in the election of April 15.

The Grand National Party, which had enjoyed the majority in the legislature, went down to defeat in the election. The former chairmen of the GNP and the Millennium Democratic Party, who initiated the impeachment and resigned shortly before the election, both said Friday that they accepted the Constitutional Court's decision.

Friday evening, hundreds of supporters of Mr. Roh from the Uri Party took to the streets of downtown Seoul to celebrate his return to office.

While his supporters celebrated outside, Mr. Roh dined with Prime Minister Goh Kun, who served as acting president during the nine weeks that the president's powers were suspended. Mr. Roh accepted Mr. Goh's previously announced decision to resign in the coming weeks.

Mr. Roh has four years remaining in his five-year term.

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