S.Korea President Vows to Overcome Economic

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SKorean president vows to overcome economic crisis

SKorean president vows to overcome economic crisis President Lee Myung-bak said Friday he will make it his priority in the new year to pull South Korea out of the global economic crisis as Asia's fourth-largest economy reported a trade deficit for 2008 _ its first in a decade.

South Korea has seen exports _ the country's main growth engine _ fall in recent months amid the global slowdown, fanning fears that the economy could contract this year on an annual basis for the first time since 1997.

On Friday, the government said exports fell 17.4 percent in December from the same month the year before _ the second straight decline after November's 18.3 percent fall. The trade balance for 2008 also swung to a deficit of $13 billion, the first deficit since 1997.

In a nationally televised New Year's address Friday, Lee said the government is going into "emergency" mode to cope with the slumping economy, and urged the nation join his efforts.

"I won't neglect even for a moment checking the economic situation and drawing up countermeasures and implementing them," Lee said. "It's time for us to unite."

The government will drastically increase spending and take steps to provide sufficient liquidity to the currency market, boost domestic demand, keep jobs and support smaller firms, Lee said, adding he hopes to see the economy start to recover in the second half of the year.

Lee also said he is ready for dialogue with North Korea to mend frayed ties. But he proposed no new initiatives.

Ties between the two Koreas worsened rapidly after Lee _ a pro-U.S. conservative _ took office early last year with a pledge to get tough with Pyongyang.

An angered Pyongyang suspended reconciliation talks and suspended some of the landmark joint projects.

SEOUL, South Korea 2009.01.02 13:03 입력 / 2009.01.02 13:03 수정