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South Korea Replaces Finance Minister; Cathay Announces Profit Surge


A new chief is in charge of South Korean economic policy. South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun has named Han Duck-Soo to the job. Until now, Mr. Han has headed up Seoul's Office for Government Policy Coordination.

Former Finance Minister Lee Hun-jai resigned after media allegations he and his wife profited from illegal real estate practices.

Fighting corruption and real estate speculation were part of President Roh's core themes during his campaign. Just days before Mr. Lee resigned, Mr. Roh promised in an annual address to crack down on real estate speculators.

Mr. Lee maintains he did nothing wrong, but does not wish to be an image burden for the South Korean president.

Park Yeong-Guk is a deputy secretary to President Roh. He says Mr. Han was chosen for his impeccable economic credentials. Mr. Park says Mr. Han received a doctorate in economics from Harvard University and has held numerous portfolios in previous governments, including serving as industry and energy minister.

The Bank of Korea says if economic activity continues at its current pace, the South Korean economy may beat growth forecasts of four percent for the year. The central bank is leaving the country's key interest rate frozen at four-point-seven percent for the fourth month in a row.

One of the region's main air carriers has announced robust earnings for 2004. Cathay Pacific says last year brought the airline its second-highest net profit ever, at $567 million. That is nearly four and a half times Cathay's profit for the year 2003, when fears of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, dealt a severe blow to travel and tourism.

Cathay executives say the profit surge reflects an improvement in the global economy. They say 2004 would have been their best year ever, if the cost of fuel had been lower.

In another sign of the regional travel industry's health, Malaysian transportation officials say plans are on track to expand Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

The airport currently handles about 21 million passengers a year. The Malaysian government says it will open a new terminal for low-cost carriers by next year, which will be capable of accepting about 10 million more passengers.

By 2008, Malaysian authorities say, they plan to complete a separate terminal costing more than $1 billion. It is projected to more than double the airport's current capacity, to more than 50 million passengers a year.

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