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Oh’s pet projects face uncertainty

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon’s ambitious yet controversial, projects to beautify the capital city face an uncertain future as he is expected to quit after Wednesday’s failed referendum.

For the past five years in office, the conservative mayor has single-handedly pushed some costly works in Seoul, defying strong resistance from liberal opposition and civic groups.

They include a project to build a waterway linking the western port city of Incheon to Seoul’s Han River to enable large cruise ships carrying Chinese tourists to anchor at the heart of capital.

The city council, controlled by the liberal opposition Democratic Party, has slashed the entire budget for the waterway project this year, which totals 75.2 billion won ($69.2 million). A defiant Oh, however, tapped into the city’s reserve fund to continue construction.

A coalition of civic groups opposing the waterway project released a statement Thursday, demanding Seoul scrap the plan immediately.

“The bungled referendum should be seen as evidence of voter disapproval of a series of costly, showy projects pushed by Oh,” it said.

Another project that may falter after Oh’s departure is the construction of Han River Art Island.

The 673 billion won project is aimed at creating an art complex on the 60,800-square-meter site of Nodeul Island on Han River by 2014. The main structure would be a 10-story opera house ― eight above and two underground ― with a 2,100-seat concert hall, a 1,700-seat opera theater and galleries.

During the campaign for the referendum on free school meals, Oh’s opponents blasted Oh for penny-pinching on lunches for children, while pouring taxpayers’ money into the projects for show.

They referred to, among others, the 50 billion won spent to build Gwanghwamun Square and another 180 billion won to give Seoul streets a makeover with stylish designs. Another being criticized is Dongdaemunn Design Plaza, currently under construction with a budget of the 420 billion won. Oh hired a renowned foreign architect for the building.

The mayor, after vetoing a plan to provide free lunches to all schoolchildren, had called on the city’s first-ever plebiscite, asking citizens to support his proposal of giving them only to poor students.

If Oh resigns, vice mayor Kwon Young-gyu will run city affairs until a by-election.

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