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New S. Korean leader shuns imperial home

Moon-Jae-in copy

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The new South Korean president is so eager to distance himself from his disgraced, jailed predecessor that he plans to partially abandon one of the job’s major perks: the mountainside presidential palace, the Blue House, from which Park Geun-hye conducted her imperial presidency.

Addressing the nation after taking the oath of office Wednesday, Moon Jae-in vowed to eventually move out of the palace that dominates downtown Seoul, where every modern South Korean president has lived and worked since the end of World War II. It is also closely associated with Park, who grew up there as the daughter of a dictator.

Moon instead plans to commute to an office in the nearby streets of Gwanghwamun, near the square where millions took part in peaceful protests for months before Park was removed from office and arrested in March on corruption charges.

“After preparations are finished, I will step out of the Blue House and open the era of the Gwanghwamun president,”
Moon said in his speech, without offering a specific timeline. “I will be a president willing to communicate with people at any time. The president will directly brief the media on important issues. I will stop by the market after leaving work so I can talk candidly with citizens. I will sometimes hold large debate events at Gwanghwamun Square.”

Moon’s plans to abandon precedent, and, partially, the Blue House, are part of an attempt to be a more down-to-earth president. In other words, the opposite of what critics saw in Park’s presidency.

Park was described by many as aloof and autocratic, and was notorious for refusing to take questions during the few news conferences she allowed.

So his new approach was clear when Moon personally introduced his prime minster and spy chief nominees at a news conference Wednesday at the Blue House and his nominees answered questions.

Moon spent his first night as president in his private Seoul home as workers were furnishing the Blue House’s residential space. He began his second day by shaking hands and taking selfies with some of the dozens of people gathered near his home Thursday morning, telling one of them “Wow, you take good photos,” before heading to the Blue House in his presidential vehicle.