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(2nd LD) Park returns home after trip to Africa, France

All News 19:22 June 05, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with comments by Park in Grenoble; ADDS photo)
By Kim Kwang-tae

SEOUL, June 5 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye arrived in Seoul on Sunday after her swing through Africa and France meant to boost economic cooperation and win broad support to sanction North Korea for its nuclear weapons program.

The trip illustrated South Korea's efforts to tap into business opportunities on the African continent that has huge growth potential as well as to further strengthen existing economic ties with Paris.

Asia's fourth largest economy signed dozens of initial deals with Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya in such sectors as infrastructure development, energy, science, information and communications technology, a move that Seoul says will help local companies make inroads into Africa.

South Korea and France also signed more than 20 memorandums of understanding that outline, among other things, expanding technological cooperation in areas like autonomous vehicles, charging stations for electric vehicles and renewable energy.

On Saturday, Park visited a research institute of French Air Liquide SA, the world's biggest supplier of industrial gases, to boost cooperation in fuel-cell vehicles as she wrapped up her state visit to France.

The president is in France to mark the 130th anniversary of Seoul and Paris establishing formal diplomatic ties.

The trip to the research institute in Grenoble, a city in southeastern France, underscores the importance South Korea places on liquefaction technology in further spreading the use of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

"I expect South Korea and France to work together to offer a meaningful gift to the people of the two countries as well as the world at large," Park said.

The president also said South Korea will ease regulations in regards to the commercialization of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and asked Hyundai Motor and Air Liquide to work together so people can inhale cleaner air.

A fuel cell car emits only water vapor as it converts stored hydrogen into electricity, which turns the vehicle's motor.

Currently, five hydrogen fuel cell taxis are on the road for a pilot program as part of project between South Korea's Hyundai Motor Co. and Paris-based electric taxi startup STEP.

Last year, Hyundai Motor delivered five ix35 fuel cell vehicles to STEP. Hyundai Motor has become the first carmaker in the world to mass produce the hydrogen-powered cars.

The trip came as South Korea's No. 1 carmaker signed a cooperation deal with Air Liquide SA -- which supplies industrial gases and services -- for spreading hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and plans to expand their charging station infrastructure.

Grenoble was the last stop on Park's swing through Africa and France. The trip took her to Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya.

Grenoble has special meaning for Park as she studied in the city for six months after graduating from South Korea' s Sogang University with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1974.

Park met with Jacqueline Courteaud Balanos, whose house was Park's home during her stay in Grenoble. Park also toured the house for about 10 minutes.

In 1974, Park was called back to Seoul as her mother, Yook Young-su, was killed by a pro-North Korea gunman from Japan in a failed assassination attempt on her father, then President Park Chung-hee.

On Saturday, Park said "merci beaucoup," meaning thank you very much in French, as she received a framed original certificate of her language study in Grenoble.

Park's tour into Africa came as Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya are pushing to modernize their infrastructure and to learn from the South Korean model of economic development.

South Korea has become a donor country from a key recipient of U.N. aid in half a century, a transformation that has inspired many developing nations to emulate the Northeast Asian country. In particular, many have launched their own version of the "Saemaeul Movement," or new community movement.

The rural development program, initiated by Park's father in the 1970s, is credited with helping modernize the then-rural South Korean economy.

South Korea has launched its aid program for Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya in the latest sign of its commitment to boosting its new development cooperation with Africa.

The "Korea Aid" program is designed to provide mobile health care and nutritional support to local people in medically underserved regions by using 10 vehicles, including ambulances. The program also allows local people to experience South Korean culture.

Park has also secured African support against North Korea's nuclear program.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has said that his country will cut off security and military cooperation with North Korea. The announcement came as a surprise, given Museveni's longstanding relations with North Korea.

The longtime leader visited Pyongyang three times and met with North Korea's founder Kim Il-Sung, the late grandfather of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

North Korea is under the toughest U.N. sanctions ever over its fourth nuclear test and its long-range rocket launch earlier this year.

On Friday, Park met with her French counterpart, Francois Hollande, and they pledged to take additional steps against North Korea, if necessary, in the latest move to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program.


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