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UN chief fuels presidential speculation with S Korea trip

Ban Ki-Moon was due to arrive in South Korea today for a six-day visit that has fuelled speculation the UN chief is lining up a tilt at the presidency of his home country.

Ban’s schedule involves a number of international forums, including the UN NGO conference in the southern city of Gyeongju.

While he is not expected to hold any formal talks with political officials during his trip, it is his political future that has been the main topic of media coverage in the run-up to his arrival.

The soft-spoken 71-year-old will step down from the post of UN Secretary General at the end of the year — 12 months before South Korea’s presidential election in December 2017.

The ruling conservative Saenuri party, which suffered a shock defeat in parliamentary polls in April, has made it clear it would welcome Ban as its candidate.

Ban enjoys high popularity ratings in South Korea, which has taken substantial national pride from his position as head of the United Nations.

Speculation over his political ambitions has been making the rounds for years, but Ban has studiously declined to comment, saying only that he is focused on the remainder of his term as secretary general.

Saenuri party officials have been less circumspect.

“The UN Secretary General is the world’s president, and Ban is so experienced and well-connected with all the world’s leaders after serving in the top UN job for 10 years,” Saenuri Party lawmaker Ahn Hong-Joon said in a radio interview today.

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