South Korean MPs agree to end protest and pass reforms


SEOUL - South Korean opposition MPs said yesterday they would end a sit-in protest at parliament and pass a number of reforms the ruling party says are needed to steer the export-driven economy through the global financial crisis.

The opposition has paralysed parliament for about three weeks by occupying the main chamber and other facilities to physically block votes on scores of reform Bills as well as a free-trade pact with the United States.

"We expect our decision to lead to the normalisation of parliament," Chung Se-kyun, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, told a news conference.

But Mr Chung said he wanted a delay in voting on contentious Bills such as the US trade deal and a measure to revamp media ownership rules.

His party was ready to pass dozens of non-controversial Bills by the end of the current session tomorrow, he said.

The ruling Grand National Party (GNP), which has a solid majority in parliament, wants to pass quickly 85 reform measures, including sweeping tax cuts, easing bank ownership regulations and privatising state-run firms.

GNP floor leader Hong Joon-pyo told reporters he wanted to start a new parliament session on Friday and approve contentious legislation such as the US trade deal by the end of the month.

The opposition is seeking longer delays.

Opposition legislators have said they want to block economic reforms they see benefiting big conglomerates and the rich.

They also believe the US trade deal will hurt farmers who will lose protection due to market-opening provisions.

There has been growing public anger in South Korea at the parliamentary impasse as well as frustration among business leaders at the political obstacles to pushing through economic reforms.

Some analysts at banks, including UBS, have warned South Korea's economy would probably shrink by as much as 3 per cent in 2009. - (Reuters)