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Elections

Presidential polls close in South Korea

Polls have closed in the South Korean presidential election and broadcasters have reported that conservative candidate Park Geun-hye is ahead in exit polls. If she wins she would be the country's first female president.

An exit poll conducted by South Korean broadcasters on Wednesday put Park on 50.1 percent versus 48.9 percent for her liberal challenger Moon Jae-in.

Park is the daughter of South Korean dictator Park Chung-Hee, a man beloved by some for the economic progress he ushered in and reviled by others for 18 years of autocratic rule. He was killed by his own spy chief in 1979.

The left-of-center Moon has campaigned primarily on economic issues, in a race characterized by a fierce fight from both candidates for centrist voters - with their respective bases relatively well tied up.

"This election is about our livelihoods, economic democracy, welfare and peace on the Korean peninsula," Moon said.

Both candidates have pledged more engagement with neighboring North Korea, with Moon saying Seoul should resume aid payments to the impoverished country without preconditions as a sign of good faith. Moon is the son of North Korean refugees and a former human rights lawyer. He was once jailed for protesting against Park Chung-Hee's regime.

South Korean culture is still dominated by the male gender, and the election of a female president would be considered a major step in a country the World Economic Forum recently ranked 108th out of 135 countries in terms of gender equality, in between the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.

msh/ccp (AFP, dpa, Reuters)