S. Korea parl't passes minor bills but delays voting on reforms

Voting on about 60 bills came two days after the opposition called off a blockade of the main parliamentary chamber.

S. Korea parl't passes minor bills but delays voting on reforms

South Korea's parliament, paralysed for weeks by opposition protests, passed scores of minor bills on Thursday but put off voting on reforms the ruling party says are needed to help the country through the global economic crisis.

Voting on about 60 bills such as revising a law on how to report marriages came two days after the opposition called off a blockade of the main parliamentary chamber in protest against the proposed economic reforms and a U.S. free trade bill. Opposition MPs had said those sweeping measures would hurt the poor.

President Lee Myung-bak's ruling Grand National Party (GNP) brokered a deal to end the protest in exchange for starting a new parliament session from Friday to begin debate on measures likely to include tax cuts, easing restrictions on bank ownership and privatising state-run firms.

Thursday marked the end of the current session that was marred by scuffles where opposition MPs broke down committee room doors with sledgehammers and GNP lawmakers discharged fire extinguishers at opposition Democratic Party lawmakers.

The GNP has a solid majority in parliament and said it wants to pass major economic reform measures by the end of the month that also include loosening restrictions on conglomerates making cross-unit investments and taking stakes in commercial banks.

Analysts say the measures are aimed at encouraging big companies to boost investment in domestic assets.

Economists say it is too early to assess the impact of the reforms because the political troubles made it difficult to anticipate which bills would be approved, adding it could be several years before any effects were seen.

President Lee ordered officials to take pre-emptive steps to counter what he called a state of national economic emergency as fresh forecasts and data deepened gloom over Asia's fourth-largest economy.

The central bank is already widely expected to cut interest rates by 50 basis points at its monthly policy meeting on Friday in addition to a combined reduction of 225 basis points since early October to spur the economy.

The Democratic Party has agreed to put the free trade pact with the United States to a vote after U.S. President-elect Barack Obama takes office on Jan. 20.

Political analysts said parliamentary approval of the deal was almost certain and the delay was a face-saving measure for the Democrats.

Polls show most South Koreans support the trade agreement, which is expected to give the country a leg up over Asian rivals in the major U.S. export market and raise the global competitiveness for domestic sectors such as financial services.

The opposition backdown followed growing public anger in South Korea at the parliament impasse as well as frustration among business leaders at the political obstacles to getting economic reforms passed.

Reuters
Last Mod: 08 Ocak 2009, 11:02
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