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South Korea’s new president opens Blue House to the public

Thousands of South Koreans poured into the presidential Blue House in leafy northern Seoul on Wednesday, after President Yoon Suk-yeol made good on a campaign promise to return the once-fortified compound to the people.

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The building, named for the approximately 150,000 hand-painted blue tiles that adorn its roof, has been home to South Korea’s leaders since 1948, and was largely restricted to the public.

That has changed since Yoon, a former top prosecutor who was sworn in on Tuesday, refused to move in, saying the hilltop headquarters — on a site once used by former colonial power Japan — fostered an “imperial” presidency and undermine communication with the public.

Instead, Yoon is working from the 10-storey defence ministry building — an undistinguished office block in downtown Seoul, hastily adorned with the presidential seal.

Critics have slammed the move as a costly waste of time and money, which could also put the country’s security in jeopardy at a time of high tensions with the nuclear-armed North.

But on opening day, South Koreans flocked to the 250,000-square-metre complex, which is flanked by mountains and nestled behind the royal Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Visitors took selfies in front of the gates in the Blue House compound
“It is an honour of my life to come here and actually see the presidential office,” Choi Jung-bun, 70, told AFP as she ate a packed lunch by a stream in its garden.

“This is a deeply storied site that conjures up old Korean kings and modern-day presidents. I am sure it will become one of the major tourist attractions.”

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