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Seoul City, council at odds over free meals at schools

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Published : 2010-12-02 18:18
Updated : 2010-12-02 18:18

The Seoul Metropolitan Council managed to pass the controversial ordinance on providing free meals in elementary schools but faces fierce protests from the city government.

The council members of the main opposition Democratic Party passed the eco-friendly free meal ordinance late Wednesday, despite the ruling Grand National Party members who staged a sit-in protest against it.

Some also clashed physically during the session.

The ordinance bill was proposed by the 79 city council members of the DP, who won an absolute majority of the seats back in the June local elections.

It largely involves providing eco-friendly free meals in elementary schools next year and in middle schools from 2012.

The free meal program has been one of the major election campaigns of the opposition camp, which the ruling party called a premature project which should be put into practice gradually over time.

Despite prolonged discussions of the issue, both sides have so far failed to reach an agreement.

Recently, the city’s budget for next year was announced, excluding the free meal article, driving the DP-led council to pass the ordinance by a majority vote.

The DP claimed that the issue could no longer be delayed due to the upcoming budget review processes but the GNP members called for an annulment of the ordinance, blaming their opponents for illicitly abusing their majority power.

Mayor Oh Se-hoon has vowed to take decisive measures against the council’s moves.

“We refuse to respond to the council’s arbitrary decision,” the mayor said through the city’s spokesperson.

He also demanded that the council review and reconsider the issue.

Based on the Local Government Act, the mayor is given a one-time refusal to the council’s decision.

The metropolitan government and the council have clashed in the past over other issues, including assemblies in Seoul Plaza.

As the council passed and reconfirmed its ordinance which principally freed all peaceful assemblies in Seoul Plaza, Seoul City filed a petition to the court, asking for annulment.

Identical processes may take place once again, should the council reconfirm the free meal ordinance.

While the parties continue their feud over the free meal system, the ordinance is expected to be incomplete due to the lack of budget, which is to be shared by the Metropolitan Office of Education, Seoul City and the corresponding district office.

In order to implement a full-scale free meal project in all elementary schools next year, a total of 229.5 billion is needed, according to officials.

By Bae Hyun-jung (tellme@heraldcorp.com)

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