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(3rd LD) Moon requests bipartisan support for extra budget to support fight against virus

All Headlines 17:20 February 28, 2020

(ATTN: MODIFIES lead paras; UPDATES with party leaders' additional remarks in paras 12-16)
By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, Feb. 28 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in asked South Korea's parliament Friday to swiftly approve an emergency supplementary budget bill designed to help contain the new coronavirus and minimize its economic fallout, while the main opposition party leader strongly condemned the government's handling of the "crisis."

Moon said the bill would be submitted as early as possible and stressed the importance of the timing of the budget injection.

"I think the key is speed," he said at the outset of a meeting with the leaders of the country's four major political parties. The meeting was held at a traditional "hanok" house, called "Sarangjae," inside the National Assembly compound in western Seoul. Sarangjae means a "room of love" in Korean.

President Moon Jae-in (C) meets with the leaders of South Korea's major ruling and opposition parties at the Sarangjae house of the National Assembly in Seoul on Feb. 28, 2020. (Yonhap)

"I would like to ask you to discuss it quickly and handle it during the extraordinary session of the National Assembly this time," Moon added.

Public concern has been growing that the COVID-19 outbreak here may spiral out of control, with more than 2,000 confirmed cases reported as of Friday afternoon.

Moon expressed deep concern about the economy as well.

"The blow to our economy is very big. The longer (the incident) continues, the more worrisome," he said and added that the government is seeking a package of special measures to curtail the impact of the virus on the economy.

He noted that the National Assembly has established a special committee on the COVID-19 outbreak and passed a set of bills on improving the country's response to infectious diseases earlier this week. Both ruling and opposition parties have agreed in principle on the need for a prompt extra budget.

"As the cooperation of the National Assembly for a pan-national response has taken its first step well, I request that it increases the intensity and speed of cooperation," Moon said.

He requested attention to mid-to long-term measures as well to beef up South Korea's overall quarantine system.

Attending the meeting were Lee Hae-chan, head of the ruling Democratic Party, and Hwang Kyo-ahn, leader of the main opposition United Future Party, as well as Sim Sang-jeung, chief of the Justice Party, and You Sung-yop, who co-heads the Party for People's Livelihoods.

Hwang Kyo-ahn (R), head of the main opposition United Future Party, speaks at a meeting with President Moon Jae-in at the National Assembly in Seoul on Feb. 28, 2020. (Yonhap)

Hwang used his opening remarks in front of pool reporters to demand the government impose a full entry ban against travelers from China and to criticize Moon's earlier statement that the COVID-19 outbreak would end soon.

He urged the president to offer a public apology, arguing that the government's failed response has "inflicted a decisive effect on the background of this crisis."

He said the government should have prohibited the entry of all people from China in the early stage of its response to the virus.

Yoo also described the Moon administration's early measures as a failure and Sim called for a halt to political strife related to the virus outbreak that is not over yet.

The ruling party leader pointed out that the nation's ruling and opposition parties have cooperated in the event of a "national difficulty," as shown in the passage of a supplementary budget during the MERS case in 2015.

It was unprecedented for the president to hold such a group consultation session with the leaders of the ruling and opposition parties at parliament.

Moon had all of his five previous meetings with them at Cheong Wa Dae, usually over a meal. Moon invited them to Cheong Wa Dae on Nov. 10 last year as a gesture of appreciation for their condolence messages over the death of his mother.

He met briefly with National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang in advance of what Cheong Wa Dae officially called a "dialogue" between the president and the ruling and opposition party chiefs.

Earlier in the day, Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki announced that the government is poised to spend a total of more than 20 trillion won (US$16 billion) in the dual combat against the virus and its economic effects.

He said the government would forward a bill on extra budget, worth at least 6.2 trillion won, to the National Assembly next week.

President Moon Jae-in (R) is greeted by National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang, both wearing face masks, at the parliamentary building in western Seoul on Feb. 28, 2020. (Yonhap)

lcd@yna.co.kr
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