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Lee faces backlash over science belt location

A day after returning from Europe, President Lee Myung-bak faced a political backlash over his government’s decision to locate the key facilities of a multitrillion-won science belt in Daejeon’s Daedeok area and LH Corp. in the southeastern city of Jinju.

Cheong Wa Dae also has to deal with calls from several ruling party lawmakers, including its new floor leader, to retract the government’s additional tax cut plans and the failure to supervise and prevent corruption at mutual savings banks.

Lee was expected to speak about the science belt when he visits the Daedeok research and development cluster Tuesday to attend a ceremony commemorating the 40th founding anniversary of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Seoul announced Monday that a research institute for basic sciences and a heavy-ion accelerator, which have been at the center of political attention for months, will be placed in Daedok.
Officials from North Gyeongsang Province have their heads shaved Monday after the government announced that Daejeon had been chosen to host a set of science and technology facilities. (Yonhap News)
Officials from North Gyeongsang Province have their heads shaved Monday after the government announced that Daejeon had been chosen to host a set of science and technology facilities. (Yonhap News)

That the science complex to house top-notch research organizations and related business facilities would be built in the central Daejeon-South Chungcheong region was nothing unexpected, considering earlier promises by the president and his government, but both ruling and opposition lawmakers were disgruntled as they claim they were misled to think their constituencies had a fair chance in winning the project.

Seoul renewed last year Lee’s election pledge to give the envisioned science-business complex to South Chungcheong, as it sought to scrap a planned relocation of government ministries to a new administrative town called Sejong being built there.

The National Assembly, however, rejected the attempt to ditch the move of ministries, leaving question marks over where the science belt would go.

Lee said early this year that the location of the science belt would be “reviewed from square one,” and his aides reportedly hinted that it could go to other regions, stoking competition among legislators to score ahead of elections.

Assemblymen from the southeastern Yeongnam and southwestern Honam regions slammed the announcement of its location in the fourth year of Lee’s five-year presidency after much political calculation.

Already discouraged by the reversal of the president’s election pledge to build an international airport in the country’s southeastern region two months ago, the people of Yeongnam were “about to explode with frustration,” the ruling Grand National Party’s Rep. Lee Byung-seok from Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, said.

Rep. Kim Young-jin of the main opposition Democratic Party accused the government of making the science belt a “political commodity.”

Having championed a “fair society” as the top policy goal for the second half of his presidency, Lee is also struggling to regain public trust after the nation’s financial regulator was found to have turned a blind eye to irregularities at mutual savings banks, causing massive losses for their customers.

Lee on Monday instructed his government to reprimand those involved in the illegal withdrawals of deposits from a soon-to-be-suspended savings bank, saying it was a case of ordinary people suffering from corruption by the influential and rich.

“We must thoroughly investigate those who received tips in advance and sternly punish those involved in the process,” Lee said during a weekly meeting with senior presidential secretaries, according to spokeswoman Kim Hee-jung.

Officials at the now-suspended Busan Savings Bank have been under investigation for allegedly tipping off their relatives and VIP customers about the institution’s impending suspension so that they could withdraw their money and avoid damage from the suspension.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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