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At polls, South Korea conservatives pay for response to Cheonan sinking

City and provincial elections dealt a blow to the conservative government of South Korea President Lee Myung-bak. Many voters were unhappy with the strong response to the sinking of the Cheonan Navy vessel.

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, running from the ruling Grand National Party, celebrates his re-election at his office in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, June 3, 2010. The deadly sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on North Korea overshadowed local elections Wednesday seen as a gauge of public sentiment toward pro-American president Lee Myung-bak's handling of the security crisis.

AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

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The conservative government of South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak suffered a shocking setback in city and provincial elections seen as a referendum on policy toward North Korea and other issues.

As final returns came in Thursday, stunned analysts and politicians sought to figure out why so many voters clearly were not happy with the government’s response to the sinking of a South Korean Navy vessel in March in which 46 sailors died.

In voting for more than 4,000 city and provincial positions, candidates of the main opposition Democratic Party won seven of 16 elections for governor and mayor as opposed to six for Mr. Lee’s Grand National Party, which previously had 11 of the 16 positions.

No margin of comfort

The narrow victory of the mayor of Seoul, Oh Se-hoon, to a second term over a woman identified with leftist causes offered scant comfort to Mr. Oh or to Korean conservatives in general.

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