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South Korea votes new leader

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Voters in South Korea choose new leader

Shortly after impeaching their leader over a huge corruption scandal that rocked the country, South Korea has returned to the poll to vote in a new leader.

The election is coming at a time when South Korea is faced with economic uncertainty and heightened tension with North Korea.

Liberal Moon Jae-in is already in clear lead while centrist Ahn Cheol-soo trails behind as his nearest challenger out 12 others in the 13-man challenge.

Mr Moon wants to increase contact with the North in contrast to ex-leader Park Geun-hye who cut almost all ties.

Observers are expecting a high turnout at the ballot boxes, with numbers boosted by younger voters, as South Koreans choose from 13 candidates.

The election is expected to close at about noon (Central African Time) and the winner will be announced soon after that.

All the candidates are promising to protect the fragile recovery in South Korea’s economy – the fourth largest in Asia – and to bring down youth unemployment, which remains stubbornly high.

There are also promises to rein in perceptions of elitism in South Korean political society and reform the family-run conglomerates – chaebols – which dominate the domestic economy.

But heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula in recent weeks have also made the perennial concern of domestic security a key election concern.

Mr Moon, of the Democratic Party of Korea, has advocated greater dialogue with the North while maintaining pressure and sanctions.

He has been critical of the two previous conservative administrations for failing to stop North Korea’s weapons development.

Both he and Mr Ahn have urged US President Donald Trump to cool his rhetoric towards the North after his administration suggested it could take military action over Pyongyang’s weapons programme.

Conservative candidate Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party however has attacked Mr Moon’s approach, saying on Thursday morning that the election was a “war of regime choices”.

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