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(2nd LD) Ahn Cheol-soo declares candidacy for president

All Headlines 18:14 September 19, 2012

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details, comments from para 6)

SEOUL, Sept. 19 (Yonhap) -- Ahn Cheol-soo, an entrepreneur-turned-professor, said Wednesday that he will run for president, putting an end to long-running speculation about his political ambition and turning this year's presidential race into a three-way competition.

"People I have met over the past months have expressed desire for political reform. Old politics should be overhauled. I'll run for president," Ahn said in a news conference in Seoul.

The long anticipated move puts Ahn in direct competition with the ruling Saenuri Party's presidential hopeful Park Geun-hye and main opposition Democratic United Party's (DUP) Moon Jae-in in the run-up to the Dec. 19 presidential election.

Throughout the news conference held at the Salvation Army Art Hall, Ahn was repeatedly asked about his intention to merge with Moon for a single powerful opposition candidacy but avoided any direct answer, except saying that everything depends on the existing political parties' commitment to change and reform.

In various opinion polls, Park and Ahn have long run neck-and-neck in a hypothetical two-way race, while Moon, the former chief of staff to the late President Roh Moo-hyun, recently caught up with the two after he won the DUP's presidential nomination on Sunday.

Polls have consistently showed a three-way race will likely hand the presidency to Park.

"Debate on selecting a single opposition candidate is inappropriate at this point," Ahn said.

Ahn said that by competing for the country's top elected office he seeks to achieve the kind of political reforms that people crave.

The 50-year-old founder of AhnLab, the country's largest anti-virus software company, said he thought long and hard before making up his mind, but is now committed to giving what the present times demand of him.

The political novice, who has never held public office, added he will stay clear of "old time politics" and said what he lacks in experience, he will make up by respecting the wishes of the people.

"I propose that all candidates meet and make a pledge that the winner of the presidential race listen to the advice of the losers and all agree to work together for the advancement of the country," he said.

He stressed that by making such a pact, leaders can help end social schisms and hatred and transform such feelings into positive energy that can improve the country.

Ahn acknowledged South Korea is facing very tough challenges and said he has no illusions he can tackle all the issues alone.

"Soaring household debt, a weak real estate market and a long-drawn out global economic crisis pose serious problems that can erupt all at once," he said.

The candidate said to overcome such challenges, he will seek the counsel of people and experts and by using such input, try to overcome obstacles.

Ahn, who plans resign from his post as dean of the Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology at Seoul National University, said he believes truth and honesty is what moves the world and promised he will be truthful as a politician.

He emphasized that in order for everyday lives to improve, politics must change and only with a new type of politics in place could there be the opportunity for a wholesale overhaul at national level.

In the future, he said, the country's economic structure must be centered on alleviating the suffering of ordinary people.

"The country needs a new economic model that encompasses calls for economic democratization, expanded welfare and striving for sustainable growth."

Without going into details, Ahn said his goal is to start by making changes to things that can be improved first, then moving onto other broader matters.

The presidential candidate said despite the many uncertainties ahead, making the necessary changes rests in the hands of the people.

He understood the demand for a single opposition candidate to run against Park, but said it was too early to hold talks on the matter.

"(For such a step to be taken) there must be real change in politics and recognition by the people that any actions by political actors represent a move in the right direction," he said.

Speaking about his two main rivals, Ahn said Park must move beyond her father's legacy and express her own historic views as the party candidate. Park is the daughter of late President Park Chung-hee who is revered by some for bringing about the country's rapid economic growth, but attacked by others for his authoritarian rule. Regarding the DUP candidate, Ahn said the Roh administration committed its share of mistakes such as fueling the concentration of wealth with big companies and exacerbating friction between the haves and have-nots,

The independent candidate pledged that if he is elected, he will give up his remaining stakes in AhnLab to the public.

The dean already sold half of his holding in the company to create a charity fund early this year.

yonngong@yna.co.kr
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