(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with agreement, briefings by parties)
By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, Feb. 28 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in visited the National Assembly on Friday and secured a bipartisan commitment to cooperation on "bold and quick special measures" to help fight against the new coronavirus and its economic fallout.
As president, Moon had his first roundtable meeting with the leaders of the ruling and opposition parties at parliament, located in western Seoul. It came as his administration plans to submit a multi-billion-dollar extra budget bill next week.
In the meeting, they agreed that parliament and the government would focus national capabilities in a bipartisan manner to respond to the "grave situations," the statement issued by the parties read.
They agreed on the need for "bold and quick special measures," including the allocation of extra budgets to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, to cope with related damages and reinvigorate the economy, it added.
At the beginning of the 99-minute meeting, Moon requested that lawmakers swiftly approve the emergency budget plan.
"I think the key is speed," he stressed during the session held at a traditional "hanok" house, called "Sarangjae," inside the National Assembly compound. Sarangjae means a "room of love" in Korean.
"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 2,300 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.
But Hwang Kyo-ahn, leader of the main opposition United Future Party, soon opened fire against the president in front of pool reporters and TV crew.
He urged Moon 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 that was first reported in South Korea on Jan. 20.
You Sung-yop, who co-heads the Party for People's Livelihoods, 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.
Moon maintained a negative view on such a full entry ban against China, the origin of the virus, saying it would have no actual quarantine-related benefits and only cause more disadvantages for South Koreans, according to Kim Jong-dae, a lawmaker with the Justice Ministry who spoke at a post-meeting press briefing.
Moon was quoted as saying that it's not desirable to engage in a political controversy over the issue.
The president emphasized the need for concentrating all efforts on containing the virus first and discuss the government's responsibility later.
Lee Hae-chan, head of the ruling Democratic Party, 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.
Sim Sang-jeung, chief of the Justice Party, agreed that the political circles should suspend political strife in connection with the virus issue and make concerted efforts to control it.
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.
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