Sun, May 16, 2004 - Page 5 News List

South Korea's Roh apologizes for impeachment crisis

SUBDUED President Roh Moo-hyun said the court's ruling to overturn parliament's impeachment vote had not absolved him of political and moral responsibility

REUTERS , SEOUL

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun yesterday apologized for causing a two-month impeachment crisis and pledged to take a backseat in politics but said he would tackle the country's economic problems without damaging growth.

In a live broadcast in drizzle in front of his Blue House office, Roh said the Constitutional Court may have ruled on Friday to overturn parliament's March 12 impeachment vote but this had not absolved him of political and moral responsibility.

"Once again I take this opportunity to apologize, deeply apologize, to the people," he said.

Until Friday's ruling, Roh had been in political limbo since the opposition-led chamber voted to impeach him -- barely a year into his single five-year term -- for breach of an election law, economic mismanagement and corruption among aides.

A majority of the court's nine crimson-robed judges ruled these were not grounds enough to oust the leader of the world's 12th-largest economy and thrust it into chaos amid a nascent economic recovery, a crisis over North Korea's nuclear aims and debate over Seoul's plan to send troops to Iraq.

"Even though the impeachment was overturned it does not mean I have escaped political and moral responsibility," a subdued Roh said in his speech, which lasted just under 20 minutes.

Roh said he worried about the economy but it was not in crisis and the country could handle the situation.

"I will not implement policies beyond our capability although that may boost our economy, because a couple of shots will not revive the sick," he said, referring to the debate in South Korea over the choice between distribution of wealth and growth.

The overturning of the impeachment triggered jubilant celebrations by supporters, who decorated Seoul's main thoroughfare with yellow ribbons and balloons and danced until midnight. Yellow is Roh's favorite color.

Reflecting on the ruling, several South Korean newspapers said in editorials that the impeachment crisis could have been avoided had Roh apologized for breaking the election law, which bans public officials from making partisan comments.

"It is necessary that Mr Roh show self-reflection and modesty. The president must first make up his mind to respect the Assembly and the opposition, and implement politics of co-existence," the JoongAng Ilbo said. The National Assembly is the country's single-chamber parliament.

The English-language Korea Herald developed this theme, noting that the pro-Roh Uri Party had won last month's general election, giving the president a parliamentary majority and scope to reach out to the opposition.

"What he needs to do now is to promote integration and harmony in a society that has been ripped apart by different ideologies, regions, generations and classes," it said.

Roh yesterday pledged to listen to the opposition and to compromise where possible, winning a cautious welcome from the Grand National Party, which helped impeach him.

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