SANGJU, (Yonhap) - President Lee Myung-bak expressed confidence Saturday that his controversial river restoration project will gain broader support once it is completed later this year.
The push for cleaning and refurbishing South Korea's four major rivers is one of Lee's main projects, the results of which will apparently affect the assessment of his presidency.
"All (of the people) will accept (the project) if (they) see the scene after (the construction) is completed in autumn this year," Lee said, attending an opening ceremony for a bicycle festival in Sangju, North Gyeongsang Province, 270km south of Seoul. "(The public) will see the genuine features of the four rivers after the Chuseok holidays (on Sept. 11-13)."
The Lee administration launched the 22 trillion won (US$19 billion) project in 2009, defying criticism from opposition parties and environmental and religious groups, who claim it will cause ecological disaster.
The president said, "There can be opposition to new things. But if (the government) does not carry out what it should do due to opposition, a country can't develop."
Lee added that the spread of bicycle use is a major element in the country's green growth efforts.
"Around 25 million residents will have bicycles," he said. South Korea has a population of 48 million.
Meanwhile, Lee's visit to this region came at a politically sensitive time.
Residents in Daegu and the nearby province of Gyeongsang are in furor over the government's decision earlier this month to scrap a plan to create a new airport in the region.
In a luncheon meeting with influential figures in the region, Lee said, "Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province need to develop a soft (knowledge-based) industry."