South Korea's parliament has given its blessing to the country's first female prime minister. Han Myeong-sook, who decades ago was a South Korean political prisoner, is expected to start her new job Thursday.

Han Myeong-sook was born 61-years ago in Pyongyang, now the capital of North Korea. She has become one of the most influential women in Seoul.

South Korean lawmakers confirmed Ms. Han as the country's new prime minister by vote of 182 - 77. It is the first time a woman in South Korea has held the position.

Ms. Han's predecessor, Lee Hae-chan, resigned last month after he was widely criticized for playing golf as a nationwide rail strike began.

Ms. Han was imprisoned for two years in 1979 for her pro-democracy activism under the authoritarian rule of South Korean President Park Chung-hee.

She was elected to Parliament in 2000, and has served two terms. She also has been minister for gender equality and environment minister.

During two days of confirmation hearings, she said she would use her position to advance the status of South Korean women. Ms. Han says she, like President Roh Moo-hyun, supports a free-trade agreement with the United States.

The new prime minister says another of her priorities is to help resolve the issue of South Koreans being held in North Korea.

Ms. Han says the best way to bring the issue of abductees to its conclusion is to keep coaxing North Korea to open itself up economically and politically.

South Korea estimates more than 500 soldiers taken prisoner during the Korean War in the early 1950s remain in North Korea. In addition, about 400 South Koreans abducted by the Pyongyang government after the war are believed to be still in the North.

The post of prime minister is primarily ceremonial in South Korea. But President Roh Moo-hyun delegated considerable authority over domestic affairs to Ms. Han's predecessor. Many political observers here believe he is likely to invest the same trust in Ms. Han.