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(2nd LD) Main opposition party's new chief urges dialogue with N. Korea

All Headlines 22:18 May 04, 2013

(ATTN: UPDATES with new leader's remarks on North Korea policy in first 9 paras; CHANGES headline)

SEOUL, May 4 (Yonhap) -- The new leader of South Korea's main opposition party called for President Park Geun-hye on Saturday to clarify her North Korea policy of "trustpolitik," saying that it's rather vague and may fall short of easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Kim Han-gil, 60, became the new leader of the Democratic Party (DP), which has been previously known as the Democratic United Party, at the leadership election earlier in the day.

"With the only title of 'trustpolitik' proposed by President Park, it is not easy for us to convince North Korea to change its attitude," Kim told reporters after the election.

"If the government of Park Geun-hye sends a clear message to the North, tension would not be heightened like this. So, details of the trust-building process should be swiftly made public," he said

According to government and ruling party officials, Park's North Korea policy calls for a tough line against the North's nuclear and missile ambitions while exercising a flexible and open approach to dialogue with Pyongyang.

Tension has been running high on the Korean Peninsula since North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in February and issued a torrent of warlike threats against Seoul and Washington.

Added to the tension is an acute dispute between the two Koreas over the fate of a jointly run industrial complex in the North's border city of Kaesong. South Korea withdrew its last remaining officials and workers from the factory zone Friday, raising serious doubt about its future.

The new opposition leader called on the Park government to actively pursue dialogue with North Korea to ease tension.

"I don't think there is any better idea than dialogue to resolve relations with North Korea," he said.

But, Kim warned that the North's action of "taking the Kaesong industrial complex as hostage" will not be justified.

In the opposition party's two-way leadership race, Kim won 61.72 percent of the vote against 38.28 percent by his rival Rep. Lee Yong-sup.

Kim's victory by a wider-than-expected margin over Lee, who was known as a supporter of the party's mainstream, or loyalists of former late President Roh Moo-hyun, meant that the party is no longer led by the pro-Roh faction.

Along with Kim, the DP elected four members of the party's supreme council, but none of them came from the pro-Roh faction.

In his acceptance speech, Kim promised to conduct far-reaching intra-party reforms and proposed ways to improve the well-being of the general pubic.

"We can survive only when we change everything except for the soul of the DP that we have kept over the past 60 years," Kim said, urging his party to put an end to "factional politics."

Kim also proposed forming a regular policy consultative body between his party and President Park Geun-hye and her ruling Saenuri Party.

The DP "is prepared for bi-partisan cooperation with the government and the ruling party to revive the livelihoods of people and discuss security issues," he said.

Kim also warned that if Park and the ruling party were not cooperative, the DP would wage a strong political fight against them.

At the party convention, the center-left party officially changed its name to the DP, signaling that it would become more centrist. The move followed a series of election defeats, including December's presidential vote.

Since its liberal presidential candidate, Moon Jae-in, was defeated by President Park in the December election, the DP has been in disarray. The party failed to win a single seat in last month's by-elections.

Days before the Saturday convention, several key members of the pro-Roh faction, including Moon Sung-keun, a former member of the party's supreme council, quit the party amid growing factional fighting.

With the return of popular independent Ahn Cheol-soo to politics after winning a parliamentary seat in April's by-elections, analysts have anticipated a change in the picture of the nation's opposition bloc.

Ahn, founder of the nation's biggest anti-virus software company AhnLab, emerged as a dark horse during last year's presidential campaign, but dropped out at the last moment to help boost the chances of Moon in the race.

kdh@yna.co.kr
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