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(LEAD) Former U.N. chief Ban seen revving up preliminary campaign for presidency

All News 14:33 January 15, 2017

(ATTN: RECASTS para 2; ADDS photo, more info in paras 6-11)
By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, Jan. 15 (Yonhap) -- Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon revved up what is seen as a preliminary presidential campaign over the weekend, moving to appeal to both conservatives and liberals through his mantra of national integration.

On Sunday, Ban, a prominent presidential aspirant, visited the Navy's 2nd Fleet Command in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, where the wreckage of the ill-fated corvette Cheonan is on display -- a trip that observers say is intended to court security-conscious conservative voters.

The corvette sank in the West Sea after North Korea's torpedo attack in 2010 that killed 46 sailors. It has been pulled out of the waters and put on display at the command to remember the ultimate sacrifices of the victims and to promote security education for troops and visitors.

Since his return home Thursday after his 10-year service at the U.N., Ban has been making politically tinged moves -- visiting tombs of former presidents, both liberal and conservative, and meeting with young voters and the socially disadvantaged, and with his supporters in his hometown of Eumseong, North Chungcheong Province.

Though he has yet to declare his presidential bid, the former foreign minister has repeatedly signaled his strong ambitions for presidency, vowing to work "for a change in politics, not for a change of government" in a thinly veiled swipe at establishment politicians.

At the naval command, Ban threw his weight behind the plan by Seoul and Washington to deploy a U.S. anti-missile system to South Korea, citing evolving security threats from North Korea.

"Given the reality of the Korean Peninsula being in an almost quasi-war situation, it is right for the government to take such a measure," Ban said.

"I understand that it is to be deployed for defensive purposes as North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons and accumulate ballistic missile technology," he added, saying diplomatic friction with neighboring countries, such as China, can be resolved through diplomacy.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (2nd from L) looks at the wreckage of the ill-fated corvette Cheonan on display at the Navy's 2nd Fleet Command in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, on Jan. 15, 2017. (Yonhap)

Beijing and Moscow have opposed the deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, arguing it could undermine their strategic security interests.

Also at the base, Ban stressed the need for a major overhaul of legal and political institutions in line with democratic principles, apparently renewing his criticism of political circles.

"Including the constitutional revision, there should be an overall overhaul of the electoral system, the way policies are determined, and politicians' code of conduct and their way of thinking," he said.

After touching on the security issue at the naval base, Ban plans to visit the hometown of late former President Roh Moo-hyun in Bongha Village, Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province -- a pilgrimage site for liberal politicians.

Observers say his moves appear to be intended to underscore his message of unity, court voters across the political spectrum and explore ways to forge a coalition of like-minded politicians largely outside the political mainstream long criticized for partisanship and seemingly perennial factionalism.

Over the course of his political campaign, Ban is also expected to highlight his 10-year service as the U.N. helmsman, marked by his advocacy for the socially downtrodden, gender equality, environmental protection and other causes.

"Over the past decade as the U.N. secretary-general, I have traveled to every nook and corner of the world to speak for the needy, poor, sick and voiceless," he said during his visit to Kkottongnae, a Catholic-run community for the sick and physically challenged in his hometown.

"Though my capacity is limited, I, as a former U.N. chief, will try to help people in trouble," he added.

Ban's aides and political watchers have said that for the time being, he will spend time reaching out to citizens to listen to their voices to squelch concerns that he has been out of touch with Korean citizens for too long.

In the near future, Ban also plans to visit a traditional market in Daegu, the stronghold for conservatives; Paengmok Port in Jindo, South Jeolla Province, the site of a 2014 ferry disaster; and other regions with different political views to highlight his desire for national unity.

Ban, in addition, plans to soon meet Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun and Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae.

This photo, taken on Jan. 14, 2017, shows former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaking during a ceremony to celebrate his return to South Korea after his 10-year service at the international organization, in Chungju, 147 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)


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