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(LEAD) Ban's grassroots drive takes on more political overtones

All News 18:02 January 19, 2017

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 3-6, 17-18)

SEOUL, Jan. 19 (Yonhap) -- Former U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon's aggressive drive to build grassroots support took on more political overtones on Thursday as the potential presidential contender met with a former conservative leader.

Ban paid a courtesy call to Lee Myung-bak, the country's only former president with some -- albeit feeble -- political influence, sparking speculation that he would soon engage in a full-fledged campaign to boost his presidential prospects.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (R) shakes hands with former President Lee Myung-bak before their talks at Lee's office in southern Seoul on Jan. 19, 2017. (Yonhap)

Lee called on Ban to use his 10 years of experience as U.N. secretary general for the sake of his home country.

"You have served at the U.N. to promote world peace and advocate for people in poor countries over the past decade," Lee said. "I hope you can capitalize on that experience to (help advance) South Korea."

Ban, in turn, praised Lee for his "green growth" policy that he pushed for during his 2008-2013 presidency to help tackle climate change.

The meeting followed Ban's four-day tour across the country to connect with citizens under his likely campaign credo of "grand national integration."

The former foreign minister has yet to officially declare his presidential bid, but he has repeatedly signaled his political ambitions, vowing to work for a "change in politics" -- an apparent swipe at establishment politicians.

Ban's rendezvous with Lee drew keen political attention as some of Lee's former aides joined his preliminary campaign team. Among them is Kwak Seung-jun who served as the chairman of the Presidential Council for Future and Vision during Lee's presidency.

Lee Dong-kwan and Rep. Chung Jin-suk, who served as Lee's chief press and political secretaries, respectively, are also said to be supportive of Ban.

Also on Thursday, Ban visited Son Myung-soon, the wife of late former President Kim Young-sam who ran the country from 1993-98 with a strong following in the country's southeastern region.

On Friday, Ban is set to meet with National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun and Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn.

On Thursday morning, Ban visited the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Daejeon, 164 kilometers south of Seoul, to deliver a lecture on science and technology policy. There, he emphasized the need to raise the level of the top science policymaker to a deputy prime minister, and for the country to pay more policy attention to the science sector.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks during his visit to the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Daejeon, 164 kilometers south of Seoul on Jan. 19, 2017. (Yonhap)

Before his visit to the school, he visited the Daejeon National Cemetery to pay respects to former President Choi Kyu-hah and the fallen troops, including the 46 sailors who were killed in North Korea's torpedo attack in 2010.

Meanwhile, the nationwide tour appeared to have had little impact on Ban's support ratings contrary to widespread expectations that his public activities would help narrow the gap with rival Moon Jae-in, a former leader of the main opposition Democratic Party.

A recent survey, conducted earlier this week by local pollster Realmeter, showed Moon with a 28.1-percent support, leading Ban whose rating stood at 21.8 percent.

With attention being drawn to which political entity Ban will join, he plans to meet former National Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa possibly next week, Chung told Yonhap News Agency.

Chung has been one of the core figures eyeing the creation of a "third political zone," a coalition of like-minded politicians who are not anchored in the political mainstream, but can appeal to voters disenchanted with establishment politics.


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