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South Korea’s president-elect ditches ‘imperial’ Blue House office

SEOUL, South Korea:  South Korea’s president-elect said yesterday he will relocate his office from the “imperial” Blue House, in a move critics charged is linked to his belief in shamanistic spiritual practices. Yoon Suk-yeol, who won a tight election earlier this month, pledged on the campaign trail that he would move presidential business out of the Blue House — home to South Korea’s leaders since 1948.

The former prosecutor has accused the hilltop headquarters of fostering an “imperial” presidency and undermining communication with the public. He is not the first to try to relocate. Outgoing President Moon Jae-in also pledged to move out “to eradicate the authoritarian presidential culture” but faced security and logistical hurdles.

Those hurdles remain — the move has raised concerns for its reported cost of around 50 billion won ($41 million), and because roads in crowded Seoul would have to be closed every day during the presidential commute.

Yoon’s critics have said his desire to move is tied to his belief in feng shui, a traditional religious practice which stresses the importance of harmony between humans and nature. The former prosecutor has been dogged by accusations of ties to a shaman, which he has denied. The Blue House has long been rumoured to foster bad luck for its residents, given the impeachment, corruption trials and imprisonment that have befallen South Korean presidents.

At a press conference yesterday, Yoon said he will start to work from the defence ministry compound after his inauguration on May 10. “It’s a difficult task, but it’s a decision I made for the future of the country,” Yoon told reporters. Yoon said the defence ministry compound was equipped with the necessary national security facilities and would minimise inconvenience compared to other possible new offices.

Addressing the concerns around the move, he said his decision was aimed at making the president more accessible and approachable. “If I move into the Blue House compound, I think it will be harder to be free from the imperial power that is symbolic of the Blue House,” he said.

The Blue House will be fully open to the public starting May 10, he added. Perched in the mountains of northern Seoul and named for its azure roof, the grounds around the Blue House were home to royalty as well as the colonial governor-general during Japan’s annexation of Korea.  It then became home to South Korea’s president in 1948. – AFP

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