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GNP in feud over science belt, airport

President Lee Myung-bak is facing fierce opposition from members of his own Grand National Party over plans for the controversial Science Business Belt and a new hub airport for the southeast region.

Since more than 16 million swing votes may come down to these location selections, some GNP members poised to run in next year’s general elections have openly denounced Lee’s plans, reflecting feuds within the party and between regions.

Jumping on the bandwagon?

Park Seoung-hyo, GNP Supreme Council member and former mayor of Daejeon, held a press conference Tuesday where he urged Lee to “be a credible president.” The party’s chairman, Rep. Ahn Sang-soo, tried to stop him, but Park was determined to confront Lee, warning that the party will lose votes in the Chungcheong region.

His agitation came after he spent Lunar New Year’s holiday last week amid hostility in his Chungcheong constituency.

The president’s remarks in a televised talk show on Feb. 1 that the Science Business Belt’s location could be selected from scratch infuriated Chungcheong residents, who firmly believe that the 3.7 trillion won ($3.3 billion) project should be theirs, as Lee had promised it during his election campaign in 2007. 
Representatives of Chungcheong civic groups urge President Lee Myung-bak to keep his campaign promise to build the Science Business Belt in the region during their rally in Cheongju on Tuesday.  (Yonhap News)
Representatives of Chungcheong civic groups urge President Lee Myung-bak to keep his campaign promise to build the Science Business Belt in the region during their rally in Cheongju on Tuesday.  (Yonhap News)
The seven-year plan, which passed the National Assembly last year, envisions the establishment of a basic science complex which could become a new business model. More than 3,000 scientists will be working on a wide range of basic sciences with state-of-the-art technologies and equipment such as a rare isotope accelerator. Its final location is scheduled to be announced around June.

After the airing of Lee’s talk show, residents and politicians from Chungcheong fumed over his “change of mind.” Other regions such as Jeolla and Gyeongsang provinces expressed willingness to join the bid to attract the complex, further strengthening the discord.

Rep. Yang Seung-jo of the main opposition Democratic Party threatened to start a “disobedience campaign” against Lee.

“The case could be another Sejong administrative city plan that has broken the heart of Chungcheong residents,” he said.

Lee in 2007 vowed that an alternative administrative city would be constructed in the region as planned by the previous government, but later suggested a revision for the sake of efficiency. His idea was disputed in the National Assembly, while the Chungcheong residents fiercely protested Lee.

Airport plan stirs Gyeongsang region

The Gyeongsang region ― the GNP’s stronghold ― is also abuzz over the possibility of hosting the 10 trillion won project to build a hub airport for the southeast region.

The plan was first suggested in 2005 and was approved by parliament last year. The central administration was to announce the location in 2009, but postponed twice. The final date is now fixed for March.

The project is expected to generate 17 trillion won for the local economy, with the creation of more than 200,000 jobs. Currently, the strongest candidates are Milyang in South Gyeongsang Province and Gadeokdo of Busan.

While cities in North Gyeongsang Province support Milyang, Busan is also campaigning to the GNP leadership and the central government, counting on the influence of its 3.5 million voters.

“The streets are covered with flags and signs asking for the allocation. It seems highly likely that we (will) lose the upcoming elections if we don’t make it,” said Rep. Kim Jung-hoon whose constituency is in Busan.

But skepticism has reportedly arisen within the administration over the effectiveness of another regional hub airport. Other provincial airports in Muan, South Jeolla Province, and in Yangyang and Wonju, Gangwon Province, are struggling under snowballing losses.

A local newspaper reported that the presidential office is considering canceling the project. Cheong Wa Dae immediately denied the report, but some insiders admitted that the project does not appear to be worthwhile.

“It seems like both projects are dead-ends to the president,” a political observer was quoted as saying by the online media outlet Pressian.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)
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