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Han River project emerges as hot issue

Conservative candidates lambast civic activist over remarks on weir removal


Park Won-soon, the liberal civic activist leading among Seoul mayoral candidates, got his first taste of election bickering Monday, after his remarks about the Han River stirred harsh criticism from conservative rivals.

The river, which bisects the capital, is likely to emerge as one of the hottest issues for candidates throughout the race, political observers said, as former Mayor Oh Se-hoon had singled-handedly pushed ahead with a series of construction projects to refurbish it against strong opposition from the city council.

During his visit to a wetland near Han River on Friday, Park reiterated his pledge to preserve the river as it is, in contrast to the former mayor’s Han River Renaissance plan. He has already vowed to discontinue the ongoing construction of a canal which would link the river to the West Sea to enable tourists to cruise from China to the heart of Seoul.

“I think it would be better for the natural water flow, if weirs are removed. Would there be any problems (if weirs are torn down)?” the candidate asked a group of environmentalists who accompanied him.

His remarks invited sharp criticism from Rep. Na Kyung-won, seeking to draw a battle line with the progressive frontrunner.

Rep. Na, who on Monday confirmed herself as the ruling Grand National Party’s candidate for the Oct. 26 Seoul mayoral by-election, criticized Park’s idea as being unrealistic.

“It’s just unthinkable,” the female politician said on Sunday. “The dismantling of weirs would involve more construction work costing taxpayers trillions of won,” she said.

Lee Seog-yeon, a right-leaning lawyer running for the mayoral post as an independent candidate, also did not neglect the opportunity to attack Park. “I oppose the removal of weirs,” Lee said.

In response to the criticism, Park’s camp said nothing has been decided about the weirs.

“The candidate (Park) was just having a conversation with experts. There is no official stance yet on the weirs,” said Seo Wang-jin, an environment activist in charge of policymaking in Park’s camp.

Liberal candidates, including independent Park Won-soon and Rep. Park Young-sun of the main opposition Democratic Party, are highly critical of Oh’s costly river refurbishment projects, saying they should be stopped. Conservatives, although also critical of costly construction work, stress they should find a more “realistic” solution, considering the resources already put in.

By Lee Sun-young (milaya@heraldcorp.com)
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