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Liberal Wins South Korean Presidential Election

Roh, the candidate of the ruling Grand Millennium Party, advocates facilitating dialogue with North Korea and wants to establish “equal” relations with Washington.

“Thank you my dear fellow countrymen, who have elected me as president,” Roh, 55, said at his party headquarters. “I will try to become a president, not just for the people who supported me, but also for the people who opposed me in the election.”

With 99 percent of the votes counted, Roh received 48.9 percent of the vote, defeating conservative candidate Lee Hoi Chang of the Grand National Party (GNP), who had 46.6 percent of the vote. Lee, who advocated tougher policies towards North Korea more aligned with those of the Bush administration, conceded defeat Thursday.

In the campaign, Roh and Lee held relatively similar positions on the economy, but diverged on international issues, such as how to deal with the threat posed by North Korea and relations with the U.S.

Roh promised South Korean voters he would pursue President Kim Dae Jung’s policy of engaging North Korea.

He said open dialogue with the North is the best way to allay concerns over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programs, a position pitting him directly at odds with President Bush, whose administration has refused to enter talks with the North until North Korean leader Kim Jong Il promises to halt his nuclear development program.

Roh says he wants the South to be less dependent on Washington and has accused past South Korean presidents of “groveling” before U.S. leaders.

“I don’t have any anti-American sentiment, but I won’t kowtow to the Americans, either,” Roh said in a recent television debate.

Roh has also questioned the presence of the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, reflecting a growing wariness among South Koreans toward the U.S.

Recently, tens of thousands of South Koreans marched in the streets to protest a U.S. military court’s acquittal of two U.S. soldiers whose armored vehicle struck and killed two teenage girls during military exercises in June.

Many South Koreans furthermore disapprove of Washington’s isolation policy with North Korea, believing that it only creates greater obstacles towards a reconciliation with the North.

“We need a leader who can say no when we think we should say no. Our country has been too subservient to the United States…. Bush is a trigger-happy man,” Kim Han Sik, a 32-year-old voter in Seoul, told the Associated Press.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman congratulated Roh on his victory and said the administration expected Seoul to continue its cooperation with the U.S.

“We warmly congratulate President-elect Roh on his victory and look forward to working closely with him and his administration. President-elect Roh has expressed his firm commitment to the U.S.-ROK (South Korea) relationship and we are no less committed,” Spokeswoman Amanda Batt said Thursday.

“We view his election as an opportunity for us to work with him and his government to build an even stronger relationship for this new century,” she said.

Roh will be sworn in as president in February 2003 when the five-year term of President Kim Dae Jung officially ends.

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