South Korean opposition MPs ready to discuss reforms

South Korean opposition MPs said they were ready to discuss bills needed to help the economy through the global financial crisis.

South Korean opposition MPs ready to discuss reforms

South Korean opposition MPs who have paralysed parliament for weeks by physically blocking sessions said on Monday they were ready to discuss bills needed to help the economy through the global financial crisis.

Scores of South Korean security personnel and opposition MPs were injured on Saturday when guards broke up an opposition blockade outside the main floor of parliament. The opposition still occupies other key parliament facilities and has threatened to block voting on some measures it calls "evil".

The opposition has delayed votes on about 85 measures the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) wants to quickly pass. These include sweeping tax cuts, easing bank ownership regulations and a free trade deal with the United States.

"Parliament will be normalised once trust is restored," Chung Se-kyun, the leader of the opposition Democratic Party, told reporters, adding he was ready to discuss scores of the least contentious bills proposed by the ruling party.

Leading MPs tried to hammer out a deal on Monday that could lead to some of the reforms coming up for a vote this week.

The willingness to negotiate comes at a time of increasing pressure on politicians to reach a compromise or risk further irritating an already angry public, analysts said.

All parties have seen their support rates drop due to the standoff, according to a recent poll.

"It is time for the National Assembly to play its role properly," South Korea's top five industry groups said in a rare joint statement on politics.

The GNP had offered to delay votes on controversial measures, such as revamping media ownership laws and the U.S. trade deal, if it would help in the quick implementation of other reforms.

It has also threatened to railroad through all its proposed bills including the U.S. trade deal by the end of the current session on Thursday if a compromise cannot be found.

In a bit of good news for Asia's fourth-largest economy, the battered won currency received a boost as foreign reserves posted their first rise in nine months, but analysts said the outlook still depended on developments in global credit markets.

Contraction possible

The central bank has forecast South Korea's economy would grow 2 percent in 2009 from an estimated 3.6 percent in 2008.

But analysts at banks, including UBS, have warned the economy would probably shrink by as much as 3 percent in 2009, which would be the first annual contraction since the Asian financial crisis a decade ago.

That would be a big blow for President Lee Myung-bak of the GNP, who took office nearly a year ago after pledging to make the passage of economic reforms a top priority.

The reforms aim to make the economy stronger fiscally. The central bank and regulators have also implemented short-term fixes to help banks and others weather the credit crunch.

But opposition legislators believe the trade deal will hurt farmers who will lose protection because of market-opening provisions while they see other economic reforms as benefitting major conglomerates and the rich.

Studies have said the trade deal, stuck in 2007 and yet to be approved by lawmakers in the United States either, would increase the $78 billion a year in two-way trade between the United States and South Korea by about $20 billion.

Analysts expect the vote on the deal in the U.S. Congress not to come for several months. The deal faces a rough ride in a new Congress that is seen as more protectionist.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has said parts of it need to be revised, especially the auto trade provisions.

Reuters
Last Mod: 05 Ocak 2009, 11:34
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