06/01/2006, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA
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Huge success for opposition in local election

The Grand National Party in the opposition has claimed the two main cities. The ruling Uri party won only in one province. The vote was for 16 posts in the country's largest cities and provinces.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – South Korea's main opposition party won a significant victory in yesterday's local elections. The Grand National Party (GNP) won 11 out of 16 key posts in the country's largest cities and provinces.

Exit polls by KBS television revealed that the ruling Uri Party won only in the province of North Jeolla, historically a stronghold of the GNP. The Millennium Democratic Party, a smaller party, took two seats. Results are as yet uncertain in two places.

The GNP took Seoul, Pusan, the country's second city, and Gyeonggi, the province of the capital, from Uri. "It was better than I expected," said Seoul's new mayor, who won 63% of the vote. "I think it reflects the peoples' expectations for clean politics and new administration." "I am perplexed," said Yeom Dong-youn, campaign manager of the Uri Party. "We'll try to do better in the future." The Uri party has been accused of failing in its aim to revive the economy and of not carrying out reforms.

The vote is an important indicator for next year's presidential poll. The ballot also interested North Korea, which fears recent problems may increase if GNP conservatives win. Last week, Pyongyang cancelled planned test runs of trains linking the north and south, citing political instability in South Korea as one of its reasons.

A series of polls reveal that the GNP approval rating rose after 20 May, when the party chairwoman, Park Geun-hye, was knifed by an unbalanced person at a meeting for her party's candidate for mayor of Seoul. Park, 54, had an 11cm-cut on her face and had to undergo surgery. Now she has recovered and was discharged from hospital.

Park, held to be the GNP leading candidate for presidential elections in 2007, is the daughter of former president Park Chung-hee, who ruled for 18 years after taking power in a 1961 military coup until he was assassinated by his intelligence chief.

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