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Voting begins in S. Korean presidential race

Younger voters may lean towards Roh while the older generation could favor Lee
Younger voters may lean towards Roh while the older generation could favor Lee

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Political tension with North Korea, rising anti-American sentiment and economic recovery are key issues as South Koreans head to the polls. CNN's Sohn Jie-Ae reports.
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• Online poll: South Korea clicks for votes 

• Profile: Lee Hoi-chang  
• Profile: Roh Moo-hyun  
• Factbox: Key issues 
• Special Report: The two Koreas 
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SEOUL, South Korea -- South Koreans have begun voting for their next president with the two leading candidates locked in a tight race that will determine the path of future relations with the United States as well as with reclusive North Korea.

Polls opened at 6 a.m. (2100 GMT) and were scheduled to close 12 hours later. About 35 million people are eligible to cast ballots with voter turnout in 1997 elections strong at 80.7 percent.

While both contenders want their secretive northern neighbor -- with whom they are still technically at war -- to give up its nuclear ambitions, they are far apart on how to deal with the communist state.

Liberal ruling party candidate Roh Moo-hyun wants to curb Pyongyang's nuke plans through dialogue, while opposition hopeful Lee Hoi-chang is keen to stand up to the North and cut aid. (Roh profile)

"The clearest distinction between myself and candidate Roh is that I believe the 'Sunshine Policy' is a failure," Lee told a news conference, referring to President Kim Dae-jung's engagement policy with North Korea. (Lee profile)

Both contenders for leadership also hold different views on how to preserve Seoul's alliance with Washington, and the fate of 37,000 U.S. troops based in South Korea.

Roh, who is riding the wave of anti-U.S. sentiment following the acquittal of two U.S. soldiers in the deaths of two schoolgirls, argues the five-decade-old alliance with America is unequal and must be revised.

For his part, Lee says he wants to preserve Seoul's ties with Washington.

While it is illegal to publish poll results in the weeks leading up to the elections, Korean newspapers say Roh could have a slight lead over Lee, who is seen as the candidate favored by the United States.

Day off

As tensions heat up on the peninsula, it is clear that Koreans are divided -- between the younger more liberal voters who lean towards Roh and the older generation who remember the traumatic 1950-53 Korean War, and are backing the more conservative Lee.

Lee's stance most closely mirrors that of the United States, which has labeled North Korea part of an "axis of evil" that must be prevented from using weapons of mass destruction.

Even so, younger voters such as Suh Jung-chi still are not sure who they are going to vote for, or even if they are going to vote at all.

The results will determine the future path of relations with North Korea
The results will determine the future path of relations with North Korea

"I am still evaluating. If I don't see that kind of plans, sound policy, some kind of commitment to the economy situation, that kind of thing, I am not sure, I might not vote this time," says Suh.

Like many South Korean voters in their 20s or 30s, voting day has a different meaning. "The best thing about the election is one day-off," says Suh.

With two-thirds of the eligible voters under 50, South Korea is focusing on the Internet in a bid for vie for their limited political attention.(Clicking for votes)

"And maybe, the Internet really can work out in moving young people's passion," says Huh Un-na, national assemblywoman.

-- CNN's Sohn Jie-ae and Reuters news agency contributed to this report.

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