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S. Korean leader vows to reconcile with North

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Associated Press / February 24, 2008

SEOUL - South Korea's conservative president-elect said yesterday that his government would continue reconciliation efforts with North Korea, despite his pledge to be more critical of the communist country than his predecessors have.

"There is no reason for North Korea to be nervous about the launch of the new government," President-elect Lee Myung-bak said during a meeting with Singapore's former prime minister Goh Chok Tong in Seoul.

"The basic thought of the new government remains unchanged - that South and North Korea should reconcile and maintain peace," he said, according to a statement released by his office.

Lee, who takes office tomorrow, will be South Korea's first conservative leader in 10 years. He has vowed to continue to seek reconciliation with North Korea but in a way that brings more criticism to the process. His liberal predecessors gave unconditional aid and concessions as part of reconciliation efforts.

Indicating his tough stance, Lee has named university professor Nam Joo-hong, a heavy Pyongyang critic, as unification minister in charge of relations with the North.

North Korea has not commented on Lee's election since the Dec. 19 vote. Lee won by a landslide, as voters expressed disillusionment with the liberal government headed by Roh Moo-hyun.

The day before the election, Goh toured an industrial park in the North Korean border city of Kaesong where South Korean companies run factories using cheap North Korean labor. The project is a symbol of inter-Korean rapprochement.

Lee has said the zone would become more prosperous if North Korea opens up to the outside world.

Lee, 66, is a former CEO of the construction division of the Hyundai conglomerate and former mayor of Seoul. A special prosecutor last week cleared him of financial fraud allegations stemming from a 2001 stock trading case.

During the presidential campaign, Lee said he would use his skills as a business executive to help make the South Korean economy one of the top seven in the world. Lee wants to reduce government bureaucracy, which business groups say is hampering the country's growth. He hopes to increase his clout in an April parliamentary election, when his conservative party will seek a majority that will allow it to change economic policy.

"I will repay you by exerting all my efforts in sincerely caring for you and reinvigorating the economy," he told voters last week after being cleared of the fraud charges.

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