South Korean president wins the Nobel Peace Prize


Associated Press

OSLO, Norway – South Korean President Kim Dae-jung won the Nobel Peace Prize today for efforts toward reconciliation with North Korea that have prompted hopes for peace on the Cold War’s last frontier.

The 76-year-old president, who emerged as a symbol of pro-democracy struggle during 40 years of leading the opposition under authoritarian rule in the South, has made reconciliation with North Korea a focus of his presidency.

“He is critical to this process and we are convinced that he will be strengthened by receiving this prize,” Gunnar Berge, chairman of the Nobel Institute, said in making the announcement.

South and North Korea, foes on the battlefield a half-century ago, have warmed to each other more in the last few months than in a generation. Their armies remain locked in a standoff across a sealed border, but the mood on the peninsula is considerably lighter.

After patiently pursuing contacts with North Korea during the first two years of his presidency, Kim traveled to Pyongyang in June to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. The two countries then stopped propaganda broadcasts, held a reunion of separated families, opened border liaison offices and agreed to reconnect a cross-border railway.

“His visit to North Korea gave impetus to a process which has reduced tension between the two countries,” the Nobel citation said. “There may now be hope that the Cold War will also come to an end in Korea.”

The Nobel announcement was greeted with great fanfare in South Korea, where the media have been betting for weeks that their president would take the prize.

All South Korean television networks broke into their regular programming to report the news live from Oslo. People surrounded large TV sets, cheering and clapping when the announcement was made.

“As a South Korean, I have never been happier. I think this will have a positive effect on our relations with North Korea,” said Soh Soon-chul, 44, an office worker in Seoul.

Kim entered politics in 1961 by winning a seat in parliament. He came to national prominence in 1971, when he almost beat then-dictator Park Chung-hee in a race that sent shock waves through ruling circles.

His time as an opposition leader included more than seven years in prison or under house arrest and four years in exile before he was elected to a single five-year presidential term in early 1998 – in the midst of the Asian financial crisis.

South Korea’s near-bankrupt economy dramatically recovered in 1999, although concerns remain about the pace and scope of the government’s economic reform program.

Speculation over Kim’s prospects in Oslo had infused debate over Seoul’s policy toward the North, which critics say is too solicitous. South Korea is donating grain and other aid to North Korea, and repatriated 63 former communist spies last month without asking for the return of Korean War-era prisoners in return.

Last year’s peace prize winner was the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders.

The five-member committee and its nonvoting secretary Geir Lundestad stake their pride in keeping the secret. The Nobel committee never reveals the nominees, only their number, which this year was a record 150. But those making nominations for the $915,000 prize often announce them.

The peace prize capped a week of Nobel announcements – the latest, the literature prize, was awarded Thursday to Chinese dissident writer Gao Xingjian, now a French citizen.

Americans James J. Heckman and Daniel L. McFadden won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics on Wednesday for developing theories on how people work and live, research that contributed greatly to employment training, public transportation, communication systems and other areas.

The physics prize was shared by Americans Jack Kilby, who co-invented the integrated circuit at Texas Instruments in 1958, and Herbert Kroemer; and Russian Zhores Alferov.

This year’s chemistry prize went to Alan Heeger and Alan MacDiarmid of the United States and Hideki Shirakawa of Japan for their discoveries in the use of plastics to conduct electricity.

The medicine prize recognized Swede Arvid Carlsson and U.S.-based researchers Paul Greengard and Eric Kandel for discoveries about how messages are transmitted between brain cells, leading to treatments of Parkinson’s disease and depression.

The prizes are actually presented on Dec. 10, the date the prize’s founder, Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, died in 1896. The peace prize is the only one presented in Oslo.

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