Reinstated by a historic court ruling, President Roh Moo-hyun (search) embarked Friday on a new era of liberal politics in the face of challenges on the economy, North Korea and the country's troop deployment to Iraq.
Just hours after the Constitutional Court ruled in Roh's favor, protesters rallied against his plan to send 3,600 troops to Iraq.
Friday's ruling reversed an opposition-backed March 12 parliamentary impeachment vote and ended months of political paralysis in the world's 12th largest economy.
The ruling teams Roh with a new-look liberal parliament dominated by his supporters — the first time in 16 years that a president has a friendly legislature.
Late Friday, Roh accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Goh Kun (search), who ran the country for 63 days during the impeachment trial.
It won't be easy for Roh to juggle his policy goals of rekindling a fragile economy, pursuing more equal footing with Washington and building closer ties with communist North Korea.
Roh pushed to send troops to Iraq despite the unpopularity of the deployment, portraying it as a way of winning U.S. support for a peaceful end to the North Korean nuclear crisis.
The deployment has been delayed twice amid escalating violence in Iraq. Opposition is rising within the pro-Roh Uri Party (search), and a smaller labor party plans to introduce legislation against the mission when the new parliament convenes late this month.
On Friday evening, a small group of protesters rallied near the U.S. Embassy demanding that Seoul reverse its decision to aid the American-led campaign. Hundreds of riot police prevented them from marching on the embassy.
Roh's so-called "diplomacy of independence" — a policy seeking more equal footing with the United States — has raised fears that it might undermine a decades-old alliance with South Korea's closest ally.
Roh once pleased young voters by saying that he "won't kowtow to the Americans." Since his December 2002 election, however, he has espoused support for the alliance and the 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea.
Also under pressure is Roh's push for reconciliation with North Korea through economic, cultural and governmental exchanges. Rapprochement was a key campaign pledge, but has been overshadowed by concerns over North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.
North and South Korea, the United States and three other nations met for a third day Friday in Beijing to hash out differences in the nuclear dispute, but failed to make any breakthroughs.
Another urgent issue is buttressing South Korea's economy.
The main opposition Grand National Party (search), which sponsored the March 12 impeachment in the National Assembly, said it "humbly respected" Friday's ruling reinstating Roh. The party said economic recovery would be its new top priority.
The impeachment accused Roh of letting growth slide to 2.9 percent last year from 6.3 percent in 2002.
The government forecasts economic growth of 5 percent this year, but poor domestic consumption and tension over North Korea remain a burden.
Roh's goverment wants to focus on growth and has been pushing free-trade pacts with neighboring countries. But Roh also has championed the rights of low-income workers, calling for a fair distribution of wealth and stricter controls over family-controlled conglomerates that have long dominated the economy.
Friday's ruling covered three main charges against Roh — illegal campaigning, corruption scandals involving his aides, and economic mismanagement.
The court cleared Roh of economic mismanagement and of charges that he was incompetent for failing to control corruption among several former aides. But it agreed that Roh violated election rules when he spoke in favor of the Uri party at a news conference.