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South Korean President Proposes 'Unification Tax'

The South Korean president has made specific comments on ways to achieve re-unification with the North. It is the first time the president has commented on the subject since the sinking of one of his navy's warships in late March.

In a nationally televised speech, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said the time has come to prepare practical steps for re-unification with North Korea.

The proposal came in an address marking the 65th anniversary of liberation of the Korean peninsula from Japanese colonial rule.

President Lee told citizens they will need to share the tremendous financial burden that would be encountered integrating the North's destitute economy with South Korea's.

The president says re-unification will come. And to prepare for that day it is time for practical measures, such as a unification tax.

Mr. Lee outlined a three-stage process leading to total integration of the communist North, now under an authoritarian regime and the capitalist South, a vibrant Asian democracy. Peaceful co-existence, he explained, would lead to economic cooperation and then to a community of one people.

Pyongyang will almost certainly ignore or condemn the plan. Mr. Lee says the pre-requisite must be North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons programs. North Korea regularly portrays the South Korean president, with his hard-line stance towards Pyongyang, as a traitor who leads a puppet regime beholden to the United States.

Tensions on the peninsula have risen since the South Korean coastal warship Cheonan exploded and sank in the Yellow Sea nearly five months ago. Forty-six sailors died. An international investigation concluded a North Korean torpedo hit the ship. Pyongyang denies any responsibility.

In his Sunday speech marking 65 years since the end of the Second World War, Mr. Lee also spoke of the future relationship with South Korea's former colonizer, Japan. The President noted a recent apology for Japan's takeover 100 years ago of Korea. He said Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan's words are a welcome "step forward" but do not go far enough.

Mr. Lee said "detailed action" is needed by Tokyo, not forgetting the past while working towards a new future for the relationship between South Korea and Japan.