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S. Korea: Opposition Steps Up Pressure on Kim - 2002-10-08

Opposition politicians in South Korea are calling on President Kim Dae-jung to respond to allegations that his government secretly paid North Korea to secure the first inter-Korea summit in June 2000. The opposition Grand National Party is stepping up pressure on South Korean leader Kim Dae-jung two months before a presidential election.

Lee Hoi-chang, the GNP's presidential candidate, demands that the president clarify his position over allegations that the government bribed North Korea into holding the historic summit. The two countries have been technically at war since 1953, when the Korean War ended with no peace treaty.

The South Korean parliament is looking into charges that $400 million was delivered to Pyongyang in exchange for the summit. Kim Dae-jung ultimately won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at reconciling the two Koreas.

Opposition leaders claim the funds were channeled from a government-run bank to a company owned by the Hyundai conglomerate and then into North Korea's coffers. The South Korean government insists that the money was not sent to the North and was instead used by Hyundai to help resolve financial woes. The president's staff also denies the accusation, as does Hyundai.

Business analyst Henry Morris in Seoul says he does not believe the opposition party's claims. However, he says, a series of financial scandals within President Kim's family and among some close aides has discredited him, and the GNP is now trying to win support ahead of the December 19 presidential poll. "They are waving a red flag and saying here is yet another scandal," says Mr. Morris. "No matter how unlikely it may be that there was any straightforward bribery going on - and that is extremely unlikely, I believe -nevertheless, there are allegations being made."

Some officials in the Kim administration have accused the opposition of smear tactics to boost their election campaign. Mr. Morris says that whether or not the charges are true, the strategy could succeed. "When the political position of the governing party is weak, there are probably a lot of people who put a fairly high degree of credence in the general story," he says. "I am not one of them, but I think it seems to be scoring some points for the opposition."

The GNP is now pressing for public hearings on the issue and says that if Mr. Kim's allies block the request they will demand the appointment of a special prosecutor.