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Tuesday, 13 June, 2000, 09:51 GMT
Kim Dae-jung: A political profile
Kim Dae Jung
Kim Dae-jung (left) is briefed prior to North Korea trip

BBC Asia specialist Larry Jagan on the life and times of former dissident, Kim Dae-jung, President of South Korea.

Kim Dae-jung was elected in December 1997 after promising voters democratic reform, and campaigns to curb corruption and the political power of the country's industrial conglomerates, known as the chaebols.

He said he would start meaningful talks with North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il - a pledge which he has now made good.

Kim Dae Jung
Veteran leader who takes pains to look young
A veteran dissident, Mr Kim has survived several attempts on his life during 40 years in politics, one of which has left him with a permanent limp.

In 1980, a military court sentenced him to death on a charge of sedition but the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment and then reduced to 20 years in jail, during which time he taught himself English.

He has long championed the democratic cause and enjoyed the loyal support of the trade unionists and the militant students during his long political career.

Before he entered politics in 1954, Mr Kim was a successful businessman, running his own shipping business, something he frequently told audiences throughout Seoul during the 1997 election campaign..

Mr Kim is now in his seventies but advisors have gone to great pains to make him look younger and more sprightly.

He has been known to rely on face massages and make up to look younger before television appearances.

Long road to the blue house

Kim Dae-jung comes from South Korea's more backward Cholla region in the south-west of the country, near the city of Kwangju.

This has been his long-time power base but his regional background is also seen by some as a major handicap.

Most South Koreans regard people from this region as socially inferior - poor, uncouth and unruly.

Many respectable Korean families would be appalled if their daughter wished to marry a man from Cholla, and in the past this attitude has largely been reflected in their voting habits as well.

Aware of this handicap he entered into an electoral alliance before the 1997 election with the small conservative party, the United Liberal Democrats, based in the south-east and led by Kim Jong-pil.

This alliance also picked up the public support of the respected entrepreneur Park Tae Jun, founder of Pohang Iron and Steel Company.

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