(2nd LD) Ban reiterates presidential ambitions, calls for national integration
(ATTN: ADDS more remarks in paras 15-24)
By Song Sang-ho
INCHEON, Jan. 12 (Yonhap) -- Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday reiterated his presidential ambitions, calling for joint efforts to bring together a nation suffering from a slew of economic, security and political challenges.
During the speech he gave after his arrival at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, Ban fell short of declaring his presidential bid, but he stressed he would "be with citizens for a change of politics, not for a change of government."
"I have already said that I am ready to give my all (for the country) and my determination remains unchanged," he told a cheering crowd of citizens at the airport.
Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks after arriving at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Jan. 12, 2017. (Yonhap)
Ban, whose second five-year term as the U.N. helmsman ended at the end of last year, has been long bandied about as a formidable presidential candidate, with various recent opinion polls putting him in second place slightly behind Rep. Moon Jae-in, a former leader of the main opposition Democratic Party.
Ban said that from Friday onward he would try to reach out to citizens to listen to their voices before deciding whether to throw his hat into the ring.
"I have long said that I would have opportunities to solicit various opinions from citizens upon my return home, and I will start having such opportunities from tomorrow onward," he said.
"And then, I will, with a humble heart, make a decision without any pursuit of personal gains. It will not take a long time for me to make that decision."
Pointing to the country's problems of income disparity and ideological, regional and generational conflicts as examples of the country being in an "overall crisis," he called for joint efforts to achieve "national integration."
Ban also used the press conference to deny bribery allegations leveled against him.
"Around the time of my return, many stories about me have been circulating in broadcasts and newspapers, but all of them have nothing to do with the truth," Ban said.
"I make it clear once and for all that I have nothing to be ashamed of, as I have served in the Republic of Korea and the United Nations over the past five decades as a public servant for the nation and the world," he added.
A local magazine recently reported that Ban received around US$230,000 from Park Yeon-cha, a local businessman, while serving as South Korea's foreign minister in the 2000s. Ban has called the report ill-founded and threatened to take legal action against the magazine.
Another bribery case involving his brother and nephew has emerged as another dispiriting setback for Ban. Ban has said he was "flabbergasted" about the case, and that he was not aware of it.
Ban also summed up his 10-year role as U.N. chief promoting world peace, fighting poverty and climate change, pursuing gender equality and protecting human rights, apparently underscoring his leadership chops.
The former foreign minister went on to lambast establishment politicians for seeking partisan interests while failing to pay due attention to citizens' needs.
"Now, our politicians must strive to find ways to heal the division in our society ... It is a disaster for our nation if our country and society are further divided due to partisan squabbling," he said.
"Sad to say, political circles are still turning a deaf ear to public sentiment expressed in (anti-President Park Geun-hye) protests and striving for their individual interests. It is very deplorable."
Asked to comment on a clause in a 1946 U.N. resolution, which some say forbids a former U.N. chief from running for an elected office, Ban said that it does not keep him from engaging in political activities.
"I expect the U.N. to give an official answer to that question," he said.
After the press conference, Ban rode a train to reach downtown Seoul in an apparent move to connect with citizens and underscore his folksy demeanor. Ban had once canceled plans to use the subway, saying it could inconvenience citizens.
On Friday, Ban is to pay respects at the graves of former Presidents Rhee Syng-man, Park Chung-hee, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung at Seoul National Cemetery in southern Seoul.
The following day, he will travel to Eumseong, South Chungcheong Province, to visit his 92-year-old mother and the grave of his father.
In the near future, Ban also plans to visit a traditional market in Daegu, the stronghold for conservatives; Paengmok Port in Jindo, South Jeolla Province, the site of a 2014 ferry disaster; and other regions of different political views to highlight his desire for national unity.
Ban, in addition, plans to soon meet Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun and Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae.
Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon waves as he arrives at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Jan. 12, 2017. (Yonhap)