(ATTN: ADDS parties' responses in last 3 paras)
SEOUL, June 3 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean government on Friday said it will toughen restrictions on old diesel vehicles while promoting sales of environment-friendly cars to address public health concerns over fine dust.
At a gathering of senior policymakers chaired by Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, the government decided to take steps to make electric vehicles (EVs) account for 30 percent of all automobile sales by 2020.
The government also plans to limit the entry of old diesel-powered vehicles into the Seoul metropolitan area and shut down coal-powered electric power generation plants that have been in operation for more than 40 years to improve air quality.
Other regulatory measures also include restricting the operations of diesel cars depending on air conditions. All diesel buses will be replaced with compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles, it added.
The country has been coping with higher concentrations of fine dust in the air.
Fine dust refers to particles that are smaller than 10 micrometers and have been known to cause various respiratory problems while also affecting the body's immune system.
In response to worries that the fine-dust emissions control measures will interfere with people's livelihoods, Hwang said the government will provide subsidies to small barbecue eateries so they can take steps, like setting up filtered vents to reduce the amount of dust particles released into the atmosphere, to prepare for the measures rather than the restrictions suddenly being put in place.
The prime minister added that South Korea will also expand ties with neighboring countries considering the geographical position of the Korean Peninsula enables fine dust to come in from abroad.
"Through such measures, we will lower the amount of fine dust in the air to meet the levels of major European cities in 10 years," Hwang said.
South Korea's ruling Saenuri Party earlier expressed concerns over speculation that the government is considering measures to regulate barbecue shops and increase the price of diesel fuel without getting feedback from the general public.
The latest decision falls shy of raising diesel prices and the levying of environmental fees that have been advocated by some ministries.
It, however, rolls back benefits provided by the government to diesel cars, which could trigger a public backlash.
The opposition parties also expressed discontent with the measures announced by the government.
"Considering the amount of subsidies needed for the promotion of environmentally friendly automobiles, the plan lacks feasibility," the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea said. Seoul, like other countries around the world, offers subsidies and tax breaks for people buying green cars.
The splinter People's Party also said the government failed to find out the precise causes of fine dust, adding that the plan is merely a "prescription without diagnosis."
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