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(News Focus) (G20) Global forum awakens sense of pride, but not for all
By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, Nov. 12 (Yonhap) -- Lee Jee-hye, 31, is happy that the two-day G-20 summit is finally over. Now she can reopen her clothing shop at an underground mall attached to COEX, a fortress-like summit venue heavily guarded by police for the protection of global leaders attending the summit that ended Friday.

   "I don't know much about G-20. But over the last month, I was deeply reminded that Seoul is hosting the meeting because I saw policemen everywhere near COEX," said Lee, who closed her shop for the two days as the mall went on lockdown for security.

  

A police official makes rounds near COEX in southern Seoul, the main venue for the Group of 20 meeting. (Yonhap)


For a country that has hosted major international sports events like the 1988 Seoul Olympics and 2002 World Cup, one would think the economic forum of politicians and business leaders would not create so much buzz.

   But the government of President Lee Myung-bak has made the high-profile international meeting a national people's campaign, calling it a chance "to elevate South Korea's national status" as the chair country of the forum representing the world's largest and fastest growing economies.

   For older generations who saw the country's thunderous transformation from an aid recipient nation to a donor, being a part of the Group of 20 and achieving the status of an industrialized country makes them proud of South Korea.

   "Hosting the G-20 means that South Korea has raised its status to a globalized country. It has moved one step up to the rank of advanced countries," an 85-year-old Seoul resident said. "Such an international event invariably comes at a cost. Some inconvenience and spendings on security are inevitable."

   Those who had worried about violent rallies were impressed by peaceful rallies held in downtown Seoul on the first day of the meeting.

   "Having seen small and big incidents taking place during the international economic meeting in the past, I have had some worries about violent demonstrations," said Lee Kwang-ho, 38, who watched TV reports on a rally at Seoul Station.

   Thousands staged a massive anti-G-20 protest and marched through the capital, but it ended peacefully without any arrests.

   "I think it shows maturity," Lee added.

  

Thousands gather in downtown Seoul to protest against the G-20 summit on the first day of the Nov. 11-12 meeting. (Yonhap)



Where public order was concerned, the country's law enforcement authorities made sure there were no mishaps.

   To be on the safe side, immigration officials have turned back several hundred foreigners suspected of wanting to enter the country to take part in demonstrations.

   Seoul police came under fire when they tried to arrest civilians who drew graffiti on G-20 promotional posters plastered all over downtown. A 41-year-old lecturer, one of two civilians caught, said what he did was satire, but the police accused him of "intentionally interfering" with a national event. The court rejected warrants for their arrest.

   The country's human rights panel said it was reviewing the case to see if the police acted excessively.

   "Regardless of whether or not the warrant was issued, I felt like Korean society lacked a sense of humor," said Kwon Mi-kyung, a 28-year-old history teacher. "If the government wants to earn praise for successfully hosting an international meeting, it should make people proud of being a part of it. To elevate the national status as a democratic society, the government should first respect its people."

   Street vendors got the short end of the stick.

   "Last month, government officials told us to leave this place, saying it was for the national interest," said Park Yoon-gyu, 50, who sells snacks on a cart bar near Samsung Station connected to COEX. "The government says people should take pride in being the host country, but we were not included."

   Studies show that South Korea's frequent and massive exposure to the international community during the event will polish its national brand and help boost exports. According to the Institute for International Trade, the direct economic impact of the G-20 summit is expected to reach over $230 million, having the equal effect of running $150 million worth of advertisements.

   Some foreigners say Seoul's hosting of the G-20 would contribute to enhancing the country's image, highlighted by international media coverage during the period. More than 4,200 journalists from 63 countries have registered for access to the summit, compared to past summits with 3,100 registered in Toronto and 2,500 in Pittsburgh, according to organizers.

   "When it comes to the media coverage of Korea, South Korea has often been overshadowed by tensions with North Korea," said "Kyle," a 28-year-old American who teaches English in Seoul. "I think the coverage of the economic meetings like G-20 could shed more light on the nation and a variety of things going on here."

   The right question, says Kim Sung-hwan, 26, is what kind of actions will follow.

   "The government says the G-20 can enhance the national status and have a big economic impact. But the two-day meeting itself doesn't seem to improve the quality of life of ordinary people in Korea and around the world," he said. "We need real action, not words."

   ejkim@yna.co.kr
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