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South Korean companies shelve Libya projects as workers flee riots

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On top of the rioting and looting of foreign companies in Libya, Dr. Lee cites oil prices rising above $100 dollars a barrel as reason for concern. The rising price of oil, he says, was the main topic at an emergency meeting Thursday at the Blue House, the center of presidential power.

“There is risk,” says Lee when asked about the possibility of violence against foreign interests erupting in other Arab countries caught up in a democracy movement that also bears parallels to mass protests here that ended military rule and led to elections in South Korea in 1987. “The fear is very high.”

Korean officials believe rioters from poverty-stricken regions of tend to see foreign companies as oppressors ripe for looting. The level of poverty, they say, is particularly low among tribal groupings in the Libya's east, where looters stole or wrecked vehicles and set fire to buildings.

The evacuation forced a halt to construction of major power plants by South Korea’s two biggest builders, Hyundai Engineering and Construction and Daewoo Engineering and Construction.

Only a speed bump, says Hyundai

Hyundai officials are convinced, however, that the evacuation of 100 Hyundai workers, including 22 Koreans and 78 from other countries will bring only a temporary halt to a wide range of projects.

Whoever finally wins in the power struggle in Libya, says Yoon Young-Keun, a Hyundai Construction manager in Seoul, “they need contractors.” As for concerns that Islamic radicals might eventually come to the fore, he says, “We can go with them, too.”

That attitude reflects Hyundai’s long experience in a region in which it has built port facilities, hospitals, apartment blocks, highways, and bridges, among other projects, since the late 1960s. A major figure in that success was South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak, who rose to chairman of Hyundai Construction, the “mother company” of the Hyundai empire, in the 1970s.

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