South Korea's new president pledges to foster reunification

(dpa) - Former businessman Lee Myung Bak was sworn in Monday as South Korean president, pledging economic revitalization and to foster reunification with North Korea.

Lee, 66, took the oath of office during a ceremony attended by 60,000 guests and foreign dignitaries including US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov and vowed to create the "basis for peaceful reunification" during his five-year term.

In his inaugural address, Lee expressed willingness to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and also said he wanted to secure peace and prosperity in East Asia by strengthening the security alliance with the US, Japan, China and Russia.

In terms of domestic policy, Lee said: "Economic revival is our most urgent task. New engines of growth must emerge assuredly, the economy grow vigorously and more jobs be created. We will start with the government and transform it into a lean and capable organization."

Economic revitalization would be effected by privatisation, tax cuts, deregulation and market-friendly reforms, he said.

In reference to North Korea's nuclear programme, Lee said that as soon as its northern neighbour gave this up and opened up, "we can expect a new horizon in inter Korean relations."

Lee reiterated his previous pledge to help a denuclearized North Korea double its per capita income to 3,000 dollars within a decade and to speed up the process towards national unification.

"The leaders of the two Koreas must contemplate what they can do to make the lives of all 70 million Koreans happy and how each side can respect each other and open the door to unification," said Lee, who will serve a five-year term.

"If it is to discuss these issues, then I believe the two leaders should meet whenever necessary and talk openly, with an open mind."

Conservative Lee decisively won December's election, ending a decade of liberal rule. Lee succeeds Roh Moo Hyun who had continued the rapprochement policy towards North Korea implemented by his predecessor Kim Dae Jung.

The new president declared 2008 the starting year for the advancement of South Korea: "We must move from the age of ideology into the age of pragmatism. Pragmatism is 'zeitgeist' that unites man and nature, matter and mind, individuals and communities for a healthy and beautiful life."

After the ceremony in Seoul, Rice noted that relations between the United States and South Korea had deepened in the past years and said: "As much as we share strategic efforts, we certainly share common values.

Lee and Japan's Fukuda agreed during a meeting to retart shuttle diplomacy, which had been suspended since 2005.

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