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Last Updated: Friday, 12 March, 2004, 22:47 GMT
South Korea's 'steady' leader
Goh Kun
Goh Kun first became prime minister in 1997
Goh Kun, the man chosen as South Korea's interim leader is known as a safe pair of hands.

In a country where government is often beset by civil unrest, military coups and political intrigue, Mr Goh has managed to maintain an even keel.

He has held important posts in six successive administrations, earning him the nicknames "Mr Stability" and "Master Administrator".

A lifetime bureaucrat from an elite Korean family, Mr Goh studied political science at Seoul National University, where he got his first taste of politics as president of the student council.

Ceremonial role

He has served as a provincial governor, as the mayor of Seoul twice in 1988-90 and 1998-2002, and held Cabinet posts in the ministries of transportation, agriculture, and home affairs.

It was in 1997 that he first took office as prime minister, a position he was again given in 2002.

In South Korea, the job of prime minister is largely seen as a ceremonial role - although the constitution requires him to lead the government in the absence of the president.

Goh Kun
Roh is very different from the man who became his prime minister
And it is just this situation that has arisen following the unprecedented impeachment of President Roh Moo-Hyun.

Mr Goh is a stark contrast to the suspended president. When hundreds of thousands of South Koreans took to the streets demanding democratic reforms in 1987, the then-home affairs minister Mr Goh called protest leaders "anti-state elements", while President Roh was a leader of nationwide protests.

However, Mr Goh does appeal to conservative South Koreans, so when Mr Roh came to power in 2002 with a small majority he turned to "Mr Stability" to help shore up his support.

Military alliance

Unlike Mr Roh, who ran his election campaign vowing not to "kowtow to the Americans", Mr Goh is a keen supporter of Washington's alliance with South Korea.

Mr Goh has urged the US not to withdraw its military presence in the country - at least not until the question of North Korea's nuclear ambitions has been resolved.

"We should never weaken the deterrence capabilities of the US military. The trip wire should remain," he said last year.

The "trip wire" is a phrase applied to the 37,000 US troops stationed on the border with North Korea, as the authorities in the South believe that any attack on those troops would act as an immediate trigger for US support.

Under pressure

But perhaps the real secret of Mr Goh's long and illustrious career lies in his other nickname, "Yes Man". Critics say he lacks the mettle to stand up to his superiors.

He was a senior political aide to President Choi Kyu-hah in 1980 when the military junta led by Chun Doo-hwan massacred hundreds of pro-democracy protesters in the southern town of Gwangju.

Years later, during a vetting for the role of prime minister, Mr Goh was asked why he had failed to intervene and curb the violence. He answered by saying he had resigned just before the massacre began and felt there were "limits" to what he could do.

Now Mr Goh will have a chance to prove his ability to stand up to pressure as he takes on his biggest challenge yet, easing South Korea through this period of political turmoil.

Profile: Roh Moo-hyun
24 Feb 03  |  Asia-Pacific

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