South Korean President Kim Dae-jung has apologized for a series of influence-peddling scandals involving senior officials in his government. The embarrassing incidents are likely to hurt his party's chances in key legislative and presidential elections later this year.

President Kim Dae-jung told reporters Monday that he is shocked by the allegations against some government officials. Mr. Kim apologized to the Korean people and said he will set up a special investigation office "as soon as possible."

Sunday, Prosecutor-General Shin Seung-nam offered to resign after one of his younger brothers was arrested for involvement in an influence-peddling scheme.

Last week chief government spokesman Park Joon-young resigned after he was accused of illegally trying to help a businessman on trial for corruption and murder. These are just the latest in a series of scandals that have damaged the reputation of Mr. Kim's government.

Under Korean law, Mr. Kim can not run for another term as president, but his minority Millennium Democratic Party faces a series of crucial elections culminating in a vote for president in December.

Conservative opposition parties are likely to benefit from the scandals as well as the current state of stalled relations with North Korea.

At Monday's news conference, President Kim urged North Korea to accept repeated U.S. offers to resume talks aimed at reducing tensions between the two sides. He also suggested Washington needs to find ways to encourage Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table. Mr. Kim says he will discuss the matter when President Bush visits Seoul next month.

North and South Korea have been bitterly divided for more than half a century following a bloody war in which the United States backed the South against the communist North.

Hopes for eventual reconciliation soared after a historic summit meeting in June of 2000 when Mr. Kim made an unprecedented trip to the North followed by a series of exchanges between the two sides. But those efforts stalled when the North Korean leader failed to make a promised reciprocal visit to the South.

The process dried up altogether early last year when the new Bush administration conducted an extensive policy review toward Pyongyang and kept North Korea on the list of countries it accuses of sponsoring terrorism.