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South Korea Reshuffles Cabinet - 2002-07-11


South Korean President Kim Dae-jung Thursday reacted to growing criticism by reshuffling his cabinet. He picked the country's first female prime minister and also chose a new defense minister in the wake of a deadly naval battle with North Korea.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung chose seven new ministers in an effort to inspire public confidence. This follows setbacks damaging his credibility and that of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party.

The move comes before a key by-election in August and a presidential vote in December.

Cabinet members with key economic posts remain in place, as do those with portfolios of foreign affairs and relations with North Korea. But the defense, justice, tourism, information, health and maritime affairs ministers were affected.

Among the new cabinet officials is 62-year-old Prime Minister Chang San, the first woman to fill that post. The position is considered largely ceremonial, but analysts say the choice represents a move away from tradition and South Korea's male-dominated politics.

South Korea's new defense minister, 62-year-old Lee Jun, is a retired four-star general.

Politics Professor An Soon-cheol from Dankook University said change was needed. Outgoing Defense Minister Kim Dong-shin was being criticized for the military's slow response to the naval skirmish with North Korea two weeks ago. Four South Korean sailors and an unknown number of North Koreans died in the clash. "The defense minister was under fire for the June 29 naval clash," he said. "I think it was an inevitable reshuffle, and President Kim does not have many tools, except this kind of reshuffle."

The South Korean leader had other reasons for changing one-third of his 18-member cabinet. Kim can't run for a second five-year term, but his political woes are damaging the party he founded.

Two of his sons have been indicted on corruption charges in the past few months, accused of trading on their political connections.

Professor An said that even though President Kim left the ruling Millennium Democratic Party in May, the party suffers by association. "Maybe President Kim wants to do something to restore public confidence in his government by this kind of reshuffle," he suggested.

Financial market reaction was limited. But the choice of a new communications minister, Lee Sang-chul, could affect the economy. Mr. Lee was chief executive officer of KT, Korea's largest fixed-line phone company. Analysts say he may push deregulation of Asia's third largest telecommunications market.

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