North Korea's state media carried blistering criticism of a rightwing independent candidate as South Koreans voted for a new president yesterday, denouncing him as a "traitor and war fanatic."
A report carried by the official Korean Central News Agency continued a recent trend and said Lee Hoi-chang was working hard to rally pro-US conservative forces.
"Such a scheme of Lee Hoi-chang is nothing but a reckless move of a war fanatic keen to wrest power and bring a horrible disaster to this land," the agency said, carrying a statement attributed to a South Korean group.
Of the three leading candidates, Lee Hoi-chang sets out the toughest policy on dealing with Pyongyang.
Earlier this year the North's media had castigated the South's conservative opposition Grand National Party and its candidate Lee Myung-bak. But its media this month dropped the attacks on Lee Myung-bak and focused on Lee Hoi-chang.
Analysts say the North now seems to believe it will have to deal with the Lee Myung-bak as president and feels relations can be stabilized.
This autumn Pyongyang staged a series of reconciliation events in what was seen as an attempt to boost the pro-government liberal party, which vows to pursue South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun's "sunshine" engagement policy.
Leader Kim Jong-il invited Roh to Pyongyang for a rare summit in October and they agreed on a series of rapprochement projects and follow-up visits.
But the North has not become a major campaign issue. Many South Koreans already feel relaxed about the state of cross-border relations and are concerned with bread-and-butter economic issues. The two conservative candidates cite the North's denuclearization as a condition for economic cooperation.
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