President Lee Myung-bak on Monday publicly denounced “pro-North Korea” political forces, as ideological conflict grows ahead of the presidential election.
“What North Korea claims is a problem, pro-North Korean forces among us echo that it is a bigger problem,” Lee said on a radio address.
He noted leftists backed North Korea’s stance that denied its responsibility for the 1983 bombing in Myanmar which killed 17 Seoul officials and its 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 South Korean sailors.
President Lee Myung-bak
His remark came amid conservatives’ attacks on the leftist Unified Progressive Party whose leaders were involved in anti-government groups allegedly upholding North Korea’s state philosophy of Juche, or self-reliance.
Their past activities came to light in the wake of an allegedly rigged in-house election, which resulted in some former “pro-communist” activists becoming lawmakers.
“As the international community calls on the North to change, those following North Korea in the Republic of Korea, which aims to join the ranks of advanced nations, should also change.”
It is the first time that the president directly berated political radicals since 2008, when his criticism of leftists added fuel to a wave of nationwide anti-government protests.
The self-styled center-right president has since refrained from provocative remarks on domestic politics.
Cheong Wa Dae officials indicated escalating public concerns over the UPP and pro-North Korean forces have apparently prompted Lee to take a more straightforward approach, Cheong Wa Dae officials indicated
“After witnessing the incident in the UPP, people have started to judge the true nature of the leftist North Korea followers in a cool, rational manner. Overall, there has been a mood for change,” a Cheong Wa Dae senior official told media.
Left-wing politicians in the UPP have refused to clarify their stance on North Korea’s hereditary power handover, its communist principles and human rights issues, triggering worries that their membership of the National Assembly could threaten national security.
The president also called on North Korea to take the example of Myanmar for a change to openness and democracy.
“Like Myanmar, I hope that the North thinks anew, makes new friends and opens a new era,” he said. “What we feel sad about is North Korea. Our genuine feeling is that we want to help the 20 million North Koreans who are suffering from hardships.”
He noted the West has rewarded Myanmar’s progress in reforms by easing long-standing economic sanctions.
Earlier this month, Lee visited the site of a blast by North Korean agents in Yangon, then Myanmar’s capital, in October 1983, which killed 17 South Korean officials accompanying then-President Chun Doo-hwan.
During the radio address, Lee expressed deep sadness, apparently sending a message to the North against its further provocations.
“I cannot suppress my anger whenever I think of by whose hands the victims were killed (in the bombing). I feel very saddened (thinking of them),” he said.
“The terrorist bombing is something that should not have ever happened in the 20th century and should not be repeated again.”
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org