UN chief Ban Ki Moon baffled by speculation over South Korea 'presidency bid'

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon leaving the airplane upon his arrival at the Chubu Centrair International airport.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon leaving the airplane upon his arrival at the Chubu Centrair International airport. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (AFP) - UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon denied on Monday (May 30) that his current South Korea visit was testing the waters for an eventual presidential bid, saying his comments on the subject had been exaggerated.

Mr Ban arrived in his home country last week for a six-day visit that has been dominated by speculation over a possible run for the South Korean presidency in 2017 - after he steps down from his UN post at the end of this year.

An initial statement that he might seek "advice" on what to do when he returns to South Korea as an ordinary citizen, was jumped on by local media as the clearest indication yet that he is considering the role.

But on Monday, Mr Ban said he was "baffled" by the "exaggerated" spin put on his remarks and insisted there was no personal or political element to his visit.

"I hope you will refrain from over-interpreting or speculating about my actions here," he told a press conference in the southern city of Gyeongju, where he is attending a UN conference of NGOs.

"Actually, I'm the person who best knows what I plan to do and I will have to do the decision-making," he added.

However, the 71-year-old did not offer a direct denial of his presidential ambitions, and speculation over his intentions will only intensify in South Korea as his term as UN chief nears its end.

Mr Ban enjoys high popularity ratings in South Korea, where his UN position is a source of substantial national pride.

Recent opinion polls show him with a clear lead over any potential rivals should he decide to run for president.

A career diplomat, Mr Ban never joined any South Korean political party, although he served as foreign minister under the late liberal president Roh Moo Hyun from 2004 to 2006.