Wed, Mar 17, 2004 - Page 5 News List

`Mr. Stability' lives up to his name

EVEN South Korean Prime Minister Goh Kun, who is standing in for the impeached President Roh Moo-hyun, has seen the markets level out and protesters go home


South Korea's interim leader, known as "Mr. Stability," headed his first Cabinet meeting yesterday and seemed to be living up to his name in guiding the nation through a presidential impeachment.

Prime Minister Goh Kun, who is running South Korea as acting president until the Constitutional Court rules on whether to unseat President Roh Moo-hyun, has issued daily statements aimed at reassuring the outside world since Friday's impeachment vote.

Protests have declined since the weekend, and financial markets have evened out.

But relations with North Korea suffered a setback, with the communist neighbor declining to show up for inter-Korean economic talks scheduled for this week in South Korea.

The Bank of Korea, the nation's central bank, said in a statement that financial markets have absorbed most of the early shock, but warned that prolonged political uncertainties could bring "a delay in the economic recovery."

South Korea has been trying to pull out of a recession. The world's 12th largest economy grew 2.9 percent last year, down from a 6.3 percent growth in 2002.

A mere 3,500 people turned out in Seoul for protests Monday night over the impeachment, a stark drop from the 50,000 who converged on downtown over the weekend to wave candles, sing and chant for the president's reinstatement.

Police have said the rallies are illegal and should be stopped, but that they would not disperse them as long as they didn't turn violent.

Yesterday's Cabinet meeting was called to discuss pending state affairs, including providing assistance to farmers following the nation's free trade agreement -- with Chile.

Goh earned nicknames such as "Mr. Stability," "Master Administrator," and "Yes Man" for holding key posts in six successive governments -- an impressive feat in a country with a history of military coups, civic unrest and political machinations.

North Korea on Sunday condemned the impeachment as a US-masterminded "coup" and demanded that the economics talks scheduled to start Monday be held in the North, citing political instability in the South. Seoul rejected that demand.

The cancellation raised fears that Pyongyang may use the prospect of leadership change in Seoul to complicate six-nation talks aimed at dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

"If North Korea uses the impeachment as an excuse to be reluctant or to try avoiding six-party talks, we'll have to question North Korea's commitment to seeking peaceful resolution to the nuclear issue," South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said.

Last month, the US, the two Koreas, China, Russia and Japan held talks aimed at easing tensions over the North's nuclear program, but negotiations ended without a major breakthrough. They agreed to meet again by July.

South Korea's political crisis began Friday, when the opposition-dominated National Assembly used security guards to drag out screaming and kicking pro-Roh lawmakers. It then passed a bill impeaching Roh for alleged election-law violations and incompetence.

The move appeared to be backfiring on the opposition, as public surveys showed the popularity of the small Uri Party, which supports the president, surging ahead of the April 15 parliamentary polls.

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