In his first public appearance after a Constitutional Court's ruling on Friday to overturn the impeachment motion against him, the 57-year-old leader blamed his own failings for the political paralysis that followed the 12 March parliamentary vote to remove him from office.

"My beloved people, how much you had to pass through over the past two months. All that stemmed from my failings," Roh said in a speech televised nationwide from the presidential Blue House.

The president made a direct apology for corruption allegations targeting his aides and also for his party's involvement in fundraising abuses surrounding the 2002 presidential elections.

Notably, he stopped short of apologising for electoral law violations that were at the heart of the impeachment motion against him.

Electoral violations

The Constitutional Court ruled that while the charges against Roh were insufficient to remove him from office, Roh was guilty of violating electoral neutrality imposed on government officials by urging voters to support the reformist Uri Party at the April parliamentary elections.

Roh's impeachment sent scores of
protesters into the streets

"I don't think I have been freed from moral and political responsibility," Roh said.

"Especially, the blame for the campaign funds and wrongdoings engulfing those around me should be placed on me. I hereby offer my sincere apology again to the people."

Several of Roh's aides and close associates were implicated in corruption scandals during his first year in office that was also marked by economic strife and deadlock with the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

Elected on a clean government platform, Roh's reputation suffered when his aides were implicated in corruption.

The charge of violating electoral neutrality was the central allegation in the impeachment motion that was passed by the opposition controlled National Assembly on 12 March.
 
Friday's ruling immediately reinstated Roh, who took office in February 2003, and placed him in a strengthened position for the rest of his five year term which ends in 2008.

National Assembly backing

"I don't think I have been freed from moral and political responsibility. Especially, the blame for the campaign funds and wrongdoings engulfing those around me should be placed on me. I hereby offer my sincere apology again to the people"

Roh Moo-Hyun,
South Korean President

For the first time, Roh will have the backing of a National Assembly dominated by his loyalists in the Uri Party, who emerged victorious from the 15 April parliamentary election.

Analysts said Roh would now be free to forge ahead with his reformist programme and would have a tighter grip on economic and foreign policy.

Key issues include the North Korean nuclear crisis, the troubled economy and relations with the United States, notably concerning Iraq.

South Korea has pledged to dispatch more than 3000 troops to help the US-led coalition in Iraq despite popular opposition there.

However, the new liberal-led parliament, which will open on 30 May, is less upportive of the troop dispatch plan than the outgoing conservative controlled National Assembly and Roh may face an early challenge to the deployment.

During his 15-minute speech on Saturday, Roh said he would address the dispatch of troops to Iraq on a separate occasion.

He said his top priority after his reinstatement would be to tackle the sluggish economy, whose fledgling recovering is threatened by higher oil prices, a possible slowdown in China, and a forecast of US interest rate increase.

"It is true that the economy faces many difficulties but the government's assessment is that we cannot call the situation a crisis," he said.