US concern as liberal lawyer is elected South Korea president

A liberal human rights lawyer was elected president of South Korea yesterday, potentially complicating US efforts to force North Korea to stop trying to build weapons of mass destruction.

With all but 5 per cent of the vote counted, it was clear Roh Moo-hyun had narrowly won an election that was all about how to manage the heavily armed, bankrupt and troublesome Stalinist state to the north. The election of Mr Roh, 56, who favours continuing the outgoing President Kim Dae Jung's "Sunshine policy" of engagement, will be met with furrowed brows in Washington. America favours a diplomatic solution but is determined to play hardball with North Korea.

The White House moved quickly to gloss over the result, showing no sign of concern that Mr Roh has in the past accused South Korean leaders of "grovelling" before American presidents. He recently declared an unwillingness to "kowtow" to Washington.

The White House said it looked forward to a continuing good relationship with South Korea, one of its closest allies, where 37,000 US troops are based. "The United States enjoys a very strong relationship with the government and the people of South Korea. It's an important relationship and a relationship we look forward to continuing very productively," Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman said.

The outcome is of intense importance to Washington, which is grappling over what to do about North Korea, particularly after its admission that it has a hitherto secret programme for enriching uranium. The Americans are determined not to make concessions to North Korea unless Pyongyang first freezes its nuclear programme.

Relations worsened last week when North Korea declared it would start up an atomic reactor thought capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium. But Washington is pursuing a diplomatic solution, despite allegations of double-standards in its dealings with North Korea – which has at least one nuclear weapon – and Iraq, which the US believes is conspiring to make one.

Mr Roh, from the ruling Millennium Democratic Party, beat the conservative, pro-American retired Supreme Court judge Lee Hoi Chang, 67, who favours a hard line with Pyongyang. With about 99 per cent of the votes counted, Mr Roh had 48.9 per cent – a result seen by analysts as a victory for the younger generation. Mr Lee, who conceded defeat in the early hours, had an estimated 46.6 per cent. The turn-out was just over 70 per cent, unusually low for South Korea.

The vote took place in an anti-American atmosphere, fuelled by the acquittal by a US military panel of two soldiers involved in a car accident that killed two schoolgirls. Tens of thousands protesters took part in rallies calling for such cases to be placed under South Korean jurisdiction.

Mr Roh won despite the last-minute withdrawal of support from Chung Mong Joon, a former presidential candidate and one of the organisers of South Korea's successful co-hosting of the World Cup.Mr Chung said he was upset by Mr Roh's remark that South Korea should dissuade the US and North Korea if they "start a fight".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Sales Advisor - OTE 18k-23k

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of Ford's leading Parts Who...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to learn ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Lead

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading providers of w...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders