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Getting to know Roh

Roh Moo-hyun
Roh Moo-hyun

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start quoteI will try to become a president, not just for the people who supported me, but also for the people who opposed me in the electionend quote
-- Roh Moo-hyun
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CNN's Sohn Jie-ae examines the background and political outlook of South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-Hyun.
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SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea's President-elect Roh Moo-hyun has come a long way from a ramshackle farming village to the Blue House presidential mansion.

The former human rights lawyer spent his early career battling the policies of previous presidents.

Roh, 57, was a fighting outsider from the time he led a student boycott in 1960 against mandatory essays praising Seoul's autocratic first president, to parliamentary hearings in 1988 in which he grilled army leaders over a 1980 massacre of protesters.

A self-educated lawyer from a family of peach and chicken farmers, Roh has, in speeches and writings, likened his quest for the presidency to that of mid-19th-century U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.

He has vowed not to forget the country's poor and deprived and the activists he met when defending students and labor leaders being persecuted by earlier military regimes.

Despite his feisty image, Roh portrays himself as peacemaker and his relative youthfulness ensures he is the first leader to have very little recollection of the war fought between the two Koreas.

Call for dialogue

During his run for the presidency he campaigned on a pledge to heal labor conflicts and bridge the rivalry between his country's southeast and southwest, an ancient rift that sometimes seems only slightly less bitter than the enmity between South Korea and communist North Korea.

Korea Univeristy's Hahm Sung-Deuk, who has published studies on South Korean leaders, says what has motivated Roh's propulsion through the political ranks is a solid set of principles.

"He firmly believes Korea needs economic distribution, rather than economic growth, and he strongly believes we have to be more concerned with reconciliation toward North Korea.

"He [is also] very concerned about family issues rather than military issues," said Hahm.

To that effect, Roh has said that North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions and missile exports -- both of which have cast a cloud over him because of his close association with outgoing President Kim Dae-jung -- can only be solved by dialogue that helps Pyongyang feel secure.

Roh's critics have branded him as a dangerous radical, ignorant of foreign policy and noted his previous association with calls for a withdrawal of some 30,000 U.S. troops based in South Korea.

In May however, in an early shift to the center, Roh stated his support for the continued presence of U.S. troops in the country.

In August, he told a visiting U.S. diplomat he had "grown more realistic" about the U.S.-South Korea alliance under Kim's tutelage.

Hot-and-cold student

Roh was born on August 6, 1946 in Kimhae, near South Korea's second largest city of Busan.

South Korean newspapers, which dug up his school records, quote a note from his first-grade teacher saying Roh had "talents in all subjects, especially presentation of his opinions."

Five years later as a sixth-grader Roh won his first election as student council president. His nickname was "stone bean" because he was tiny but tough, classmates said.

He describes himself in an autobiography as a hot-and-cold student in high school, doing well when he studied but suffering plummeting grades after he skipped class to smoke and drink with friends.

When Roh graduated from Busan Commercial High School in 1966, he didn't have enough money to go to college.

Instead he worked low-paying odd jobs and began self-study, finally passing the state bar examination in 1975.

He spent the early 1980s defending student and labor activists, before getting directly involved in the pro-democracy movement in 1987.

He won a seat in parliament from Busan in 1988, then lost it in the 1992 election, returning to parliament after winning a 1998 by-election in Seoul.

After he lost a parliamentary race back in his hometown in April 2000, Roh's supporters launched a fan club called Nosamo ("Roh lovers group"), whose Web site played a big role in his rise in the ruling Millennium Democratic Party this year.

Married with a grown son and daughter, Roh lists his hobbies as mountain climbing and bowling.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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