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South Korean Conservatives Choose Presidential Candidate

South Korea's main conservative party has selected a former Seoul mayor as its candidate for president. Elections to replace current South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun take place in four months. As VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, the conservatives enjoy a strong lead in polls.

An official from the Grand National Party, or GNP, confirmed Monday what many have expected for months.

He announces that former Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak is the party's candidate for the South Korean presidency.

As a former senior executive in South Korea's Hyundai conglomerate, Lee is viewed as a pro-business leader with a knack for seeing projects through.

He is most readily associated with an environmental project - the Cheonggyecheon stream which runs through Seoul. As mayor, Lee overcame ridicule and bureaucratic hurdles to renew the stream, which Japanese colonial rulers covered with concrete in the early 20th century.

As supporters chanted his name at Monday's GNP convention, Lee promised an action agenda.

Lee vows to turn South Korea's economy around and unite its society.

Lee defeated his main rival, former GNP chairwoman Park Geun Hye, by a narrower margin than some expected, about 1.5 percent. Park, the daughter of the late dictator Park Chung-hee, would have been the country's first female presidential candidate.

Experts say unless there is a major shift in South Korean politics, Lee is likely to be the next president. The Uri party of President Roh Moo-hyun, whose term expires in five months, formally dissolved itself a few days ago. The party has suffered mass defections by lawmakers hoping to distance themselves from Mr. Roh, whom many voters thing has mismanaged the economy.

South Korean conservatives also say President Roh has been too generous in making concessions to North Korea. Although Seoul has given billions of dollars in aid and investment to the North, Pyongyang tested its first nuclear weapon last year. GNP candidates want the North to reciprocate more in their dealings.

The GNP has been sharply critical of Mr. Roh's announcement this month of a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

GNP spokeswoman Na Kyung-won tells reporters the summit seems like a political move designed to confuse voters just months before the election.

The summit was originally planned for later this month. However, it has been postponed until October, just two months before the presidential vote, due to flooding in North Korea.