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Park apologizes for abandoning pledge of aid for elderly

AFP-JIJI

President Park Geun-hye apologized to senior citizens Friday over the latest in a series of damaging rollbacks over welfare spending — a key plank of her election campaign.

“I am truly regretful and apologetic,” Park told pensioners during a lunch meeting a day after she reneged on a campaign pledge to provide a monthly allowance of 200,000 won ($186) to all senior citizens aged 65 or over.

Earlier in the day, Health Minister Chin Young had offered to step down to take responsibility for the U-turn, but the prime minister rejected his resignation.

Social welfare was a top voter issue in last year’s presidential campaign, with caring for the elderly a special concern in one of the world’s most rapidly aging societies.

Park, who became the country’s first female president, had pitched herself as the welfare choice, suggesting her unmarried status meant she could devote herself to the people’s well-being.

“You, the people, are my family,” she said in her final TV address before election day. “Like a mother who dedicates her life to her family, I will become the president who takes care of the lives of each one of you.”

But as well as shelving the pension allowance, she has been forced to postpone another campaign pledge — to halve college tuitions — until at least 2015.

Her administration has blamed the rollbacks on slower economic growth and dwindling tax revenues.

The Finance Ministry said Thursday that Asia’s fourth-largest economy will run a fiscal deficit of 1.8 percent of gross domestic product next year.