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(LEAD) Former U.N. chief Ban begins official events with cemetery visit

All News 15:28 January 13, 2017

(ATTN: RECASTS caption, para 9; ADDS photo, more info in paras 10-12)

SEOUL, Jan. 13 (Yonhap) -- Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a prominent presidential aspirant, paid homage to late former presidents, both conservative and liberal, at a national cemetery in Seoul on Friday, underscoring his message of unity and integration.

A day after his return home, Ban carried out his first official event by visiting the tombs of former Presidents Rhee Syng-man, Park Chung-hee, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung at the Seoul National Cemetery.

"I have come home after I, as the U.N. secretary-general, strove for world peace, security and development over the last decade," he wrote in the visitors' book at the cemetery. "I will do my best, though my capability is limited, to help the Republic of Korea make a great leap forward."

Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (R), along with his wife Yoo Soon-taek, offers a silent prayer to pay tribute to South Korean patriotic martyrs at the National Cemetery in Seoul on Jan. 13, 2017, one day after he returned home from New York. (Yonhap)

Ban, who completed his second five-year term at the end of last year, has yet to officially declare his bid for the country's presidency, but he has repeatedly signaled his strong presidential ambitions.

During a press conference held on Thursday, he reiterated his ambitions for the country's top elected office, highlighting his resolve to work "for a change in politics, not for a change of government" -- a message largely seen as a challenge to establishment politics.

In a meeting with reporters before his visit to the cemetery, Ban said that he plans to call impeached President Park Geun-hye to offer a New Year's greeting.

"(Park) is (still) the head of state, and I have yet to offer my New Year's greeting to her," he said. "Anyway, I think it is right for me to give her a call."

His remarks came amid rumors that Ban is seeking to distance himself from the unpopular president. Park was impeached by parliament on Dec. 9 over a corruption scandal involving her and her friend.

After his visit to the cemetery, Ban visited a community center to change the address on his resident registration card.

At the center, he came across a young student and spoke about the issue of the high youth unemployment rate.

"The youth unemployment is a big social issue in Korea and around the world," he said. "Government and political leaders must make serious efforts to tackle the matter."

According to recent government data, the unemployment rate for those aged between 15 and 29 rose to a record high of 9.8 percent last year, up from 9.2 percent recorded in the previous year.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (2nd from L) shakes hands with a citizen during his visit to a community center in Sadang-dong, southern Seoul, on Jan. 13, 2017. (Yonhap)

Over the weekend, Ban plans to travel to Eumseong, North Chungcheong Province, to visit his 92-year-old mother and the grave of his father.


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