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Golf Scandal Costs South Korea's Prime Minister His Job


South Korea will soon need to fill the job of Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan, who has resigned over a controversial game of golf. He came under intense political criticism for teeing off while a nationwide labor strike was getting underway. The scandal shows the high stakes as South Korea enters an election season.

President Roh Moo-hyun accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan on Tuesday.

Mr. Lee has spent the past two weeks under fire for playing golf with businessmen on March 1, the day railroad workers began a nationwide strike.

The golf game sparked anger among ordinary South Koreans, upset about four days of commuter headaches during the strike. Political opponents were quick to describe the game as inappropriate, saying Lee's proper place during a crisis was not on the green, but on the job.

The scandal flared as political activity is heating up in South Korea. President Roh's Uri party, already with slipping popularity, faces a crucial test in nationwide elections on May 31.

South Korean politicians also are gearing up for next year's presidential election. Uri Party Chairman Chung Dong-young, widely viewed as a front-runner in that race, says his party will recover from the golf scandal.

Chung says after wrapping up this issue, he will concentrate on repairing damaged confidence in the party.

Prime Minister Lee has been office since 2004 and is a close ally of the president. He is seen as having considerable influence over government policy.

Mr. Lee is expected to officially step down within a week. Deputy Prime Minister Han Duck-soo is likely to serve as acting prime minister for the next few weeks.

South Korean executives practicing their golf swings Tuesday in the basement of the upscale Seoul Finance Center were philosophical about the golf scandal.

One executive in his late 30s says the episode revolves around changing perceptions of golf.

He says playing golf is still quite expensive for average Koreans. He adds while it is no big deal for executives, it can sometimes create a bad impression when government officials play.

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