S.Korea parliament chief to force votes on reforms
Reuters - 1 hour 15 minutes ago
By Jon Herskovitz
SEOUL, Dec 29 - South Korea's parliament speaker vowed to end a protest by opposition politicians to a U.S. trade deal and other measures, and force a vote by Wednesday on dozens of reforms designed to boost Asia's fourth largest economy.
Dozens of minority party MPs have occupied the main chamber of parliament since last week, prompting Parliament Speaker Kim Hyong-o on Monday to issue a midnight deadline for them to end their sit-in.
He did not elaborate on what action would be taken.
"I ask the opposition party to leave by midnight. Otherwise, I, as the speaker, will take every possible measure to restore order according to parliamentary law," he told reporters.
Some MPs and aides have also blocked various committee and subcommittee rooms.
Kim Hyong-o said he wanted to see a vote by the end of the year on measures the ruling party said include the trade deal and privatising state firms.
The ruling, conservative Grand National Party, which holds a solid majority in the 299-seat National Assembly, said it wants to pass 85 bills that include easing rules on bank ownership to help the export-driven economy through the global slowdown.
The central bank has forecast annual economic growth will sink to an 11-year low of 2.0 percent next year as exports lose steam and domestic demand falters. The South Korean won <KRW=> has fallen more than a quarter against the dollar this year.
South Korea's opposition Democratic Party has shown no signs of ending its blockade of the floor of parliament and committee room. It has said the financial measures are designed to help major conglomerates and the wealthy.
South Korea's parliament ground to a halt after opposition MPs swinging sledgehammers on Dec. 18 tried to force their way into a committee meeting room to halt the introduction of the bill to ratify the trade deal with the United States. [ID:nSP342995]
They were turned back by an office-furniture barricade and by ruling party MPs who sprayed fire extinguishers at them in a melee that local newspapers described as an embarrassment.
South Korea and the United States last year struck the trade deal that studies said would boost their $78 billion a year in two-way trade by about $20 billion. The pact has not been approved by legislatures in either country.
"The majority of people want us to have the FTA and know it is a critical issue for the South Korean economy and to improve our security relationship with the United States," said Hahm Sung Deuk, a political science professor at Korea University.
Bureaucrats and business leaders say it will help raise local standards to international levels in key areas such as financial services, while opponents said farmers will be hurt as they lose government protection due to market-opening provisions.
Hahm said if South Korean lawmakers had acted sooner in ratifying the trade pact, it would have been easier for the deal to win approval in the lame-duck U.S. Congress.
But the dynamics in Washington will change in January when President-elect Barack Obama, who has said parts of the deal such as auto trade need to be renegotiated, takes office and what is seen as a more protectionist Congress is seated.
South Korean analysts said it may by take six months or more for Congress to take up the FTA, the largest bilateral trade deal the U.S. has struck in about 15 years. And there is more pressure to revise the auto trade section due to the precarious financial position of the Big Three U.S. carmakers. (Additional reporting by Kim Junghyun; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)
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