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In Korean elections, conservatives' win boosts president

President Lee can lean on his new Assembly majority to pursue economic reforms and a tougher N. Korea policy.

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South Korea's President Lee Myung Bak appears to have won the support he needs to pursue economic reforms and a tougher line toward North Korea, after his Grand National Party won a majority in a National Assembly previously controlled by outspoken foes of his conservative policies.

"He's getting the vote of confidence he needs," says Park Nei Hei, an economics professor and consultant with the Boston Consulting Group. "He's getting Korean sentiment behind him."

The elections strengthened Mr. Lee's position as he prepares to fly to Washington next week for his first meeting with President Bush since winning the presidency in December, when he defeated by a landslide a leftist candidate backed by a government with very different views on economic problems and North Korea.

Mr. Park predicts that "MB," as Lee is often referred to in headlines and conversations, "will not have any problem doing what he has to do emphasizing the growth of the economy and loosening up regulations."

Lee also is expected to try to reach an understanding with Mr. Bush on how to deal with North Korea after a series of rhetorical attacks in which the North has denounced him as a "traitor" and threatened to reduce South Korea "to ashes."

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