updated 3/15/2004 1:13:54 PM ET 2004-03-15T18:13:54

Known as “Mr. Stability,” South Korea’s interim leader appeared Monday to live up to his name in guiding the nation through an unprecedented presidential impeachment.

Protests dwindled, financial markets evened out and Seoul urged North Korea to carry on with nuclear talks.

Acting President Goh Kun, who is running South Korea until the Constitutional Court rules on whether to unseat President Roh Moo-hyun, has issued daily statements aimed at reassuring the outside world.

Meanwhile, a mere 3,500 people turned out for protests Monday night over parliament’s impeachment of Roh, a stark drop from the 50,000 who converged on downtown Seoul over the weekend to wave candles, sing and chant for the president’s reinstatement. Police have said the rallies are illegal and should be stopped.

“If they continue to reject our appeals, we will take action to disperse the rallies and subject the protest leaders to legal punishment,” national police said in a statement, without specifying a deadline.

Demonstration organizers at the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, a civic group, said they would try to act within police guidelines to avoid trouble but insisted on keeping the protest alive.

“I have been voting for the opposition party,” said restaurateur Kim Chul-ho, 57, who shut his business early to attend Monday’s demonstration. “But when I saw the preposterous way they impeached President Roh, I thought I should act and add one voice to this protest.”

North: U.S. behind 'instability'
Uneasy at the prospect of South Korea’s leader being removed by lawmakers, communist North Korea has lashed out at what it calls a U.S.-engineered “coup” unleashing “instability” in the South. It offered no proof for its charge.

The interim Seoul government urged Pyongyang on Monday not to use the crisis as an excuse for stalling six-nation talks on the North’s nuclear weapons programs.

Still, there were signs of a rupture in inter-Korean relations.

The two Koreas were set to hold economic talks in the South on Monday, but Pyongyang tried to change the venue to the North. The South refused, and the talks were scrapped.

“If North Korea uses the impeachment as an excuse to be reluctant or to try avoiding six-party talks, we’ll have to question North Korea’s commitment to seeking peaceful resolution to the nuclear issue,” South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon told reporters.

Ban said he will send a deputy, Lee Soo-hyuck, to Beijing on Tuesday to discuss convening a third round of nuclear talks with the United States, both Koreas, China, Russia and Japan. The six met last month in Beijing, and agreed to talk again by July.

The political crisis began Friday, when the opposition-dominated National Assembly used security guards to drag out screaming and kicking pro-Roh lawmakers. It then passed a bill impeaching Roh for alleged election-law violations and incompetence.

The move appeared to be backfiring on the opposition, as public surveys showed the popularity of the small Uri Party, which supports the president, surging ahead of the April 15 parliamentary polls.

Goh Kun, formerly prime minister, earned nicknames such as “Mr. Stability,” “Master Administrator,” and “Yes Man” for holding key posts in six successive governments — an impressive feat in a country with a history of military coups, civic unrest and political machinations.

South Korean stocks posted modest gains Monday in a market propped up, at least for now, by public pension funds that have been buying and are ready to buy more to cushion shocks from the political turmoil.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index, or Kospi, finished up 0.4 percent at 852.26 points. South Korea’s currency, the won, was up by 0.3 percent against the dollar.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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