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Pres. Pledges Efforts to Expedite Honam Rail Project

Posted December. 05, 2009 09:31,   


President Lee Myung-bak yesterday said he will try to advance the completion of the Honam high-speed railway by at least several months if the budget allows.

He said this in a congratulatory speech in the southern city of Gwangju at the ground-breaking ceremony for the railway to link Seoul and Gwangju, attracting big applause from those attending.

The president made his fifth visit to the Honam area, which comprises North and South Jeolla Province. Twelve days earlier, he had attended a ceremony in Gwangju to announce a state-sponsored project to clean and develop the Yeongsan River.

President Lee also said the Honam railway and Yeongsan River projects are aimed at reviving the regional economy and preparing for the future, urging bipartisan efforts for national and regional development.

The Honam high-speed railway is one of the region’s long-cherished desires. If the first phase is completed by 2014 as planned, going from Seoul to Gwangju will take just 93 minutes instead of 159 minutes.

Attending the ceremony was Gwangju Mayor Park Gwang-tae and South Jeolla Gov. Park Joon-young, who came under severe criticism for their “flattery” of the president. Both are members of the main opposition Democratic Party.

Mayor Park thanked the president for having the railway project carried out ahead of schedule and expressing his “respect and gratitude.”

The rhetoric was significantly toned down from the mayor’s comments Nov. 22, when he praised President Lee for helping Korea overcome the global economic crisis faster than other world leaders and enhancing the country’s international status by winning the right to hold the Group of 20 summit in November next year.

The mayor also said he will pray for the president so that he will go down in history as “a leader who built an advanced, first-rate country.”

It is customary for the head of a provincial or municipal government to show the maximum respect for the president. A Gwangju official said the mayor conveyed grassroots opinions to the president over the railway project.

Gov. Park said nothing praising President Lee but reportedly accompanied him in visits to an industrial complex and the construction site of a nuclear power plant in Yeonggwang.

A South Jeolla provincial official said the governor accompanied the president under normal protocol and asked for the central government’s attention to key economic projects in the province.

The Democratic Party made no comment on the president’s visit, but two of its lawmakers from Gwangju boycotted the ceremony while three others attended.

yongari@donga.com goqud@donga.com