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Monday, 25 November, 2002, 08:27 GMT
New favourite for Korean presidency
Roh Moo-hyun, presidential candidate of the pro-government Millennium Democratic Party, centre, celebrates after beating Chung Mong-joon
Roh Moo-hyun now leads over his conservative rival
A liberal candidate for the South Korean presidential election has emerged as front-runner to win the race after the opposition camp unified its campaign.

Roh Moo-Hyun, a former human rights lawyer who supports continued aid for North Korea, has taken a slight lead over former conservative frontrunner Lee Hoi-chang, according to opinion polls.

The race narrowed after Chung Mong-joon, South Korea's millionaire football chief who also was also standing on a liberal ticket, withdrew his candidacy on Monday.

The two opposition camps had decided to choose a single unified candidate, believing it was their only chance of beating Mr Lee, candidate of the conservative opposition Grand National Party, in the 19 December presidential elections.

A live televised debate between Mr Chung and Mr Roh on Friday was followed by opinion polls at the weekend.

Mr Roh, candidate of the Millennium Democratic Party founded by President Kim Dae-jung, received the support of 46.8% of people polled, compared to 42.2% for Mr Chung.

New favourite

A poll by South Korean newspaper Donga Ilbo of just over 1,000 voters on Monday, immediately after the declaration of the weekend contest, gave Mr 41.1% approval against 37.5% for Mr Lee, an edge slightly outside the margin of error, the daily said.

Lee Hoi-chang
Lee Hoi-chang takes a harder line on N Korea

Under an agreement between the two parties, Mr Chung will now become Mr Roh's campaign manager.

Mr Chung extended his congratulations to the MDP candidate, pledging "I'll do my best to help candidate Roh."

Key election issues include the economy, clean government, and policies towards North Korea.

South Korea's current "sunshine" policy of engagement with the North has been put under severe strain by Pyongyang's alleged admission that it has a nuclear weapons programme.

Mr Roh, 56, supports the continuation of exchanges with the North, despite such revelations, whereas Mr Lee has called for financial aid and economic exchanges to the North to be halted until its alleged nuclear programme is dismantled.

Analysts believe that next month's presidential election is likely to be one of the closest in South Korea's history.

See also:

13 Sep 02 | Country profiles
22 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
19 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
04 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
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