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Seoul Mayor to Join Main Opposition Party as Elections Near

Seoul Mayor Park Won Soon will join South Korea’s main opposition party as the ruling camp lags in opinion polls ahead of key elections this year.

Park will join the Democratic United Party, the DUP said in a statement on its website, without specifying a date. Seoul government spokesman Yoon Jong Jang confirmed the mayor’s plan in a telephone call, without providing further details.

Park won the Seoul mayoral election as an independent in October, dealing a blow to the ruling party ahead of elections for parliament in April and for president in December. He criticized President Lee Myung Bak’s policy of disengagement with North Korea, and tapped public discontent over a widening wealth gap and rising inflation.

Support for Lee’s recently renamed New Frontier Party is at 33.9 percent, trailing the DUP’s 35.8 percent, according to the latest weekly poll conducted by Seoul-based Realmeter between Feb. 6 and Feb. 10. The survey of 3,750 people had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.

Park is a civil rights lawyer who helped found the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, which helped organize protests against lifting a ban on U.S. beef imports in 2008. In 2006, he received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, given in honor of the former Philippine president.

He has said that the government’s North Korea stance contributed to two deadly attacks in 2010, including the torpedoing of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors. North Korea denied any involvement in the incident.

With a population of more than 10 million, Seoul accounts for more than 20 percent of the country’s people and about a quarter of its $1 trillion economy.

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