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Profile: Lee Myung-bak

25 February 08 07:33 GMT

Raised in poverty before making millions in business, some say the life story of South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak mirrors that of his nation.

Mr Lee - who turned 66 on the day he was elected president - was born in the Japanese city of Osaka in 1941, during Japan's occupation of the Korean peninsula.

His parents returned to a life of poverty in Korea shortly after the end of World War II - his mother earning a living as a street-food vendor.

Mr Lee put himself through university in Seoul during the 1960s, working as a labourer during the day and studying at night. He led student protests against the authoritarian government, and received a police caution in 1962.

After graduation, he took a job with Hyundai, the car manufacturer. A decade later, he had become the firm's youngest-ever chief executive.

While at Hyundai, he earned the nickname "the bulldozer" for his ability to drive through major projects.

As mayor of Seoul, from 2002 to 2006, he carried on in a similar vein - spearheading a huge project to open up a scenic stream through the heart of the capital.

This boosted his green credentials, while earning him the epithet "hero of the environment" from Time magazine.

But just as South Korea's main business interests have suffered serious corruption scandals in recent years, so Mr Lee's own scruples have come under scrutiny.

Shortly before taking office as president, he was investigated in connection with a stock market fraud, but was subsequently cleared of all charges.

Tough stance

As president-elect for the conservative Grand National Party, he pledged to make South Korea the world's seventh largest economy - it currently stands at 13 - and to achieve 7% annual growth.

"I will become a president who rebuilds the Republic of Korea and helps the people regain their lost smiles," he promised.

The married father-of-three vowed to create thousands of new jobs, and said he would spend about 14bn won on improving the transport infrastructure and attracting foreign investment.

He has promised closer ties with the US and a tougher line on North Korea, arguing that economic aid should be tied to Pyongyang's willingness to give up its nuclear weapons programme.

However, he has also said he is in favour of setting up a 37.5bn won investment fund for North Korea if it abandons the programme.

Mr Lee has a declared personal fortune of 35bn won (£18m; $37m).

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