Conservative elders call for policy changesAbout 350 of South Korea's most prominent former politicians, academics and religious leaders gathered yesterday in central Seoul to denounce the Roh Moo-hyun administration for driving the country, in their words, into the hands of "pro-North Korean, leftist and anti-American" forces.
In a special declaration dubbed "To uphold freedom and democracy," they demanded that the administration stop its unilateral push to relocate to a new capital, halt efforts to abolish the National Security Law and end efforts to pursue a government inquiry of the nation's history.
They also asked the administrations to focus its energy on national security and the economy. They demanded that the administration drop its pursuit of "leftist" economic policies, and build closer ties with the United States.
The group included a former prime minister, Kang Young-hoon, and a former National Assembly speaker, Kim Su-han.
The declaration was signed by about 1,400 people, including seven former prime ministers, five former National Assembly speakers, 120 sitting legislators and 500 retired generals, though not all attended yesterday's rally. Park Jeong-hoon, a senior official of the Catholic Lay Apostolate Council of Korea, and Mu Jin-jang, a former senior official of the Jogye Order, the nation's largest Buddhist sect, signed the declaration.
The declaration said in part, "The president is killing the roots of our republic by ignoring the looming issues of economy and national security and by regenerating ideological conflict."
It added: "With this Sept. 9 declaration, the Korean people must lead in the effort to protect and uphold the Republic of Korea, a nation in crisis."
Conservative groups welcomed the move. "The elders felt that they had to speak out in this situation where we are disarming in a rapidly-changing international security environment, " said Kim Ho-jin of the Korea Freedom League.
Liberal groups criticized the declaration. "It's only a massive rush of words by cold war forces, who are denying the changing times," said Song Won-jae, a spokesman for the Korean Teachers' Union.
Sharp battle lines were drawn yesterday in the political arena.
The chairwoman of the opposition Grand National Party, Park Geun-hye, held a press conference in which she demanded that the president renounce his calls to abolish the National Security Law.
"I will stake everything I have to uphold this last safeguard of liberal democracy and capitalism," she said.
The Blue House declined to answer Ms. Park on the record.
"There is nothing more to add to what President Roh has said," said Kim Jong-min, the Blue House spokesman. On Sunday, appearing on network television, Mr. Roh said the "abolition of the National Security Law would mean that South Korea is becoming a civilized nation."
"Discussion of the National Security Law should rightly be held at the National Assembly, " Mr. Kim said.
In her press conference, Ms. Park said, "I urge President Roh to demonstrate a firm commitment to the legitimate, liberal democratic Republic of Korea."
The opposition's display of strength could presage another confrontation between conservatives on one side and the Uri Party and Roh administration on the other.
In a general party meeting, the governing party put its stamp of approval on plans to repeal the National Security Law. Uri legislators, however, put off a decision on how to fill what could be a legal vacuum in dealing with threats to national security when the anti-communist law is abolished.
The party has two proposed ways of handling the question: revising the Criminal Code or drafting an entirely new law.