(ATTN: ADDS photo, more info in paras 13-15)
By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, Feb. 3 (Yonhap) -- From a drunk son of a business tycoon spitting on and swearing at flight attendants to an apartment resident beating an old janitor and well-heeled clients assaulting department store clerks, a series of physical abuses committed by the privileged left South Korea in shock over the past year.
Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn on Friday pledged to push for "comprehensive pan-government" measures to protect the socially disadvantaged, accusing such abuse by the powerful and rich of undermining the fundamental values of liberal democracy, human dignity and social cohesion.
"As such improper acts by those exploiting their status against the socially and economically vulnerable have had serious negative ramifications on the entirety of our economy and society, we have to definitely root them out," Hwang said during a meeting of ministers on the protection of the socially disadvantaged.
"Such acts have posed a stumbling block to our efforts for social integration as they have weakened trust among the members of our society," he added.
Hwang has been increasingly speaking for the need to address the troubles faced by poor and marginalized citizens recently, which some observers construed as a move to boost his political profile ahead of an upcoming presidential election. Hwang has been bandied about as a potential conservative contender, though he has remained noncommittal about whether to throw his hat into the ring.
Political circles have carefully watched Hwang's public activities and messages that could appeal to conservative voters, as his popularity has been on a steady rise.
After former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon renounced his presidential ambitions on Wednesday, Hwang was touted as Ban's replacement to carry the flag of the conservative bloc in the race for the presidential office.
Hwang came in third place in a Gallup Korea poll released Friday, by garnering a 9 percent approval rating, up 6 percentage points from a month earlier.
Moon Jae-in, former head of the main opposition Democratic Party, remained as the most favored potential candidate with 32 percent. Liberal provincial governor An Hee-jung shot up to the second place at 10 percent, up 7 points in the past month.
During the meeting, Hwang vowed to strengthen the existing institutions to protect the socially vulnerable through various measures such as enhancing rules to protect workers on the receiving end of verbal abuse and toughening punishments for those refusing to pay overdue wages to their workers.
The acting president also said the government will seek to enhance social awareness about the recurring cases of abuse through education and publicity efforts.
"We will continuously conduct a national campaign to pursue a fair and transparent society and warm community that cares for the socially disadvantaged," he said.
Later in the day, Hwang visited a state-run support center for multicultural families in central Seoul.
Hwang pledged to expand support for interracial families, underscoring the importance of fostering a social climate free from prejudice and discrimination. In particular, he said the government will seek to expand language education for the families through online and offline educational institutions.
Also on the day, Hwang met with Salvador Panelo, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's chief legal counsel, to discuss a homicide case involving a South Korean citizen who was reportedly kidnapped and killed by Filipino police officers last year. Hwang called on Manila to take action to deal with crimes committed against South Koreans.
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