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(LEAD) Rival parties unite in Moon bashing over memoir controversy

2017/04/21 17:40

(ATTN: CHANGES slug, headline, lead; UPDATES throughout with new info)

SEOUL, April 21 (Yonhap) -- Conservative parties on Friday bashed presidential front-runner Moon Jae-in, capitalizing on rekindled controversy over Seoul's abstention from a 2007 vote on a U.N. resolution against North Korea's human rights abuses when he served as a top presidential aide.

They lambasted the liberal Democratic Party candidate for kowtowing to the North and called into question his credentials as a potential commander-in-chief, especially at a time the communist state is escalating nuclear and military threats.

In a media interview, former Foreign Minister Song Min-soon reiterated that Seoul decided not to vote after consulting Pyongyang. Moon then served as the chief of staff to liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, who led the country from 2003-2008.

Song, the country's top diplomat from 2006-2008, first made the revelation in his memoir published in October.

Moon dismissed Song's claim as a "vile" attempt to sway voters ahead of the May 9 election. He countered that Seoul had contacted Pyongyang to "notify" it of the decision to abstain, not to hear its opinion on the issue.

"I just brushed it aside (when Song first made the claim) as he was a minister, whom I once worked with, and as there could be differences in our memories ... But it seems it is not a thing I can just shrug off when I see this happening ahead of the upcoming election," Moon told reporters.

Moon Jae-in, the presidential candidate of the liberal Democratic Party, speaks during a forum on gender equality in Seoul on April 21, 2017. (Yonhap) Moon Jae-in, the presidential candidate of the liberal Democratic Party, speaks during a forum on gender equality in Seoul on April 21, 2017. (Yonhap)

"We then notified the North of our decision to abstain. We never asked for its opinion nor did we have any reason to do so," he added.

Conservative rivals unleashed a barrage of criticism on Moon, hoping to pick up momentum for a turnaround from their lackluster campaign.

"Candidate Moon has told a lie ... a big lie if you look at Song's memoir," Hong Joon-pyo, the presidential candidate of the conservative Liberty Korea Party, said during a debate hosted by Kwanhun Club, an association of senior journalists.

"Can we bestow control of our armed forces to one who lies and does not call the North a main enemy? I am skeptical about this and convinced that Moon does not befit the presidential post," he added.

The conservative splinter Bareun Party also questioned Moon's qualifications for leading the military.

"(Song's claim) indicates that (Moon) continues to care about the North Korean regime and its feelings," Rep. Kim Young-woo said in a radio interview.

"The president is the top leader of the military, meaning if the president has the wrong understanding of the overall security situation, he or she can't make a crucial decision in case of a contingency," he added.

The center-left People's Party, seeking to win over conservative voters by differentiating itself from traditional liberals on security issues, also joined the chorus of criticism.

"Moon lied again," party spokeswoman Kim Yoo-jung said, referring to Moon's denial during his TV appearance earlier this year.

The far-left Justice Party accused conservative parties of disparaging the Roh administration's "efforts for peace and inter-Korean cooperation."

   Moon's stance on security has long been conservatives' main point of attack, particularly amid Pyongyang's unrelenting saber-rattling.

Earlier this week, Moon came under attack for his refusal to refer to the North as a "main enemy" during a televised debate among the top five presidential candidates.

Moon's campaign said that he refuses to publicly label the North a main enemy as the next president needs to seek dialogue with Pyongyang to establish peace on the peninsula and pursue peaceful reunification.

But his conservative opponents cited such a stance as proof that he is weak on security.

Despite a barrage of conservatives' attacks on him, Moon is seen maintaining a lead in the latest voter survey conducted by local pollster Gallup Korea.

Moon scored 41 percent, followed by Ahn Cheol-soo of the center-left People's Party with 30 percent and Hong with 9 percent.

sshluck@yna.co.kr

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