ROH SUPPORTERS
Lee Jin-man  /  AP
Protesters rally against the impeachment of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in front of the National Assembly in Seoul Friday.
updated 3/12/2004 11:00:04 PM ET 2004-03-13T04:00:04

The interim head of state known as “Mr. Stability” pledged to continue South Korea’s alliance with Washington as he began his first full day in office Saturday, hours after thousands of angry South Koreans held candlelight vigils to protest the impeachment of their president.

Prime Minister Goh Kun, who assumed executive powers from President Roh Moo-hyun, said the government will remain unwavering it the international standoff over North Korea’s nuclear programs.

There were no reports of any change in the alert status along the South highly militarized border with the North following the rapid change in leadership. But Defense Minister Cho Young-kil said Saturday that the impeachment caused a “crisis situation in the supreme military command.” He did not elaborate but urged U.S. military assistance in maintaining “impeccable vigilance without the slightest wavering.”

The candlelight protests were peaceful but underlined new instability in a nation already juggling the nuclear standoff, a sluggish economy and a tumultuous run-up to parliamentary elections next month.

Goh stressed the need for continuity and calm in a brief statement delivered early Saturday.

Goh said the government “will conduct all its national projects and policies tasks without changes.”

He also pledged to follow through on the government’s plans to send 3,000 troops to help rebuild Iraq, to maintain the U.S. alliance and to seek a peaceful end to the North Korean nuclear crisis.

“I earnestly urge the people to help restore social stability and economic vitality so that the concern the world has about the situation in our country will turn into the usual trust,” Goh said.

The impeachment unnerved many South Koreans, but there were no reports of civic unrest.

The 66-year-old Goh, who has served various posts under six successive governments, earned the nicknames “Mr. Stability” and “Master Administrator” for his ability to survive a South Korean political landscape often riddled with military coups, civic unrest and parliamentary machinations.

Goh will perform the executive duties until the Constitutional Court rules on whether to unseat Roh, a decision that could take up to six months. The opposition-controlled National Assembly voted Friday to impeach Roh on grounds of illegal electioneering and incompetence.

Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon stressed the government’s commitment to continuity in a Friday evening phone call to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Ban told Powell there would be no change in Seoul’s policy toward North Korea and that the government would “maintain its close alliance with the United States,” a Foreign Ministry statement said.

On Friday evening, protests had erupted around the country, including rallies in Seoul, Busan, Taegu and Kwangju. Police estimated around 12,000 Roh supporters gathered outside the capital’s National Assembly waving candles and chanting “Impeachment is null and void!”

Fueling the rallies was a widespread perception that the opposition Grand National and Millennium Democratic parties had launched the impeachment bid for political gain ahead of nationwide parliamentary polls April 15.

Two polls taken by broadcaster KBS and the Yonhap news agency found 70 percent of South Koreans thought the impeachment was wrong.

The KBS poll’s margin of error was 3.3 percent while Yonhap’s was 3.07 percent.

The impeachment vote followed hours of televised shoving matches among lawmakers battling for control of the assembly’s podium. Security guards eventually forcibly removed screaming Roh supporters who had tried to block the vote by commandeering the rostrum.

South Korea heightened its military vigilance against the North on Friday but the Defense Ministry said it saw no signs of unusual North Korean troop movements. On Saturday, U.S. Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, commander of U.S. forces in South Korea, met with Cho,t he defense minister.

Details of the talks were not immediately available. The United States has 37,000 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korea War.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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