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GNP’s Hong vows to settle Korea-U.S. FTA, N.K. rights law

The new chief of the conservative ruling party said Tuesday his party would seek to ratify the free trade deal with Washington and pass the North Korean human rights law next month regardless of opposition from rival parties.

Hong Joon-pyo, who was elected the new chairman of the Grand National Party, presided over his first Supreme Council meeting Tuesday, vowing to achieve harmony between different factions.

The 57-year-old politician told a local daily that both of the controversial bills “must be settled in August” to prevent future political controversy.

The right wing Lee administration and the ruling party have been pushing a bill calling for improvement in the North’s bleak human rights situation for months. The bill has been pending at a parliamentary subcommittee since last February due to objections from the progressive main opposition party, which claims it would provoke the North and sever ties.

North Korea has long been accused of human rights abuses, ranging from public executions and torture to unjust imprisonment of attempted defectors and political prisoners. Pyongyang accuses the U.S. and Seoul of making up stories to threaten its regime.

Opposition parties here have also been skeptical of the free trade agreement with the U.S., calling on the government to discuss again the terms they call “financially disadvantageous.”

During the party meeting Tuesday, Hong vowed “non-factional politics,” a GNP spokesman who attended the meeting told reporters.

“The new chairman emphasized the importance of increasing communications via policy and research meetings among various different factions within the party,” said Ahn Hyung-hwan. “Party members agreed on the importance of this issue.”

Analysts have been saying the election of Hong, a non-mainstream lawmaker close to President Lee’s in-house rival, as the new ruling party leader may make Lee an early lame duck.

Hong is a close confidant of Park Geun-hye, who fought for the presidency against Lee four years ago. As the daughter of ex-President Park Chung-hee and former chief of the GNP, Park is currently the frontrunner of the 2012 presidential elections.

Hong, who has been putting importance on the livelihoods of lower income households, is also expected to draw a line between the Lee administration’s business-oriented welfare policies, political observers say.

Meeting with Kim Hyo-jae, Presidential Senior Secretary for Political Affairs, who visited the party’s office Tuesday, members of the new GNP leadership indicated changes on the policy line.

“Changes will be inevitable in the Grand National Party’s financial policies,” Nam Kyung-pil, member of the Supreme Committee, was quoted as telling Kim.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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