Scandal-hit Park replaces prime minister
SOUTH Korea’s embattled president Park Geun-hye replaced her prime minister and two other top cabinet members yesterday in a bid to contain a damaging political scandal.
The move was part of a planned reshuffle of senior civil servants and ministers aimed at setting up a crossparty “neutral” cabinet and assuaging public anger with the president and her administration.
Ms Park has been engulfed in a political storm over allegations that she allowed a long-time friend, who holds no political position, to meddle in affairs of state, including cabinet appointments.
The friend, Choi Soon-sil, is currently being questioned under emergency detention by prosecutors over her links to Ms Park and other allegations of influence-peddling and fraud.
A presidential spokesperson said Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn had been replaced “in connection with the current situation” and added that the finance and public safety ministers were also being changed.
The new premier was named as Kim Byong-joon, a top aide to the late liberal president Roh Moo-hyun.
The prime minister is a largely symbolic post in South Korea, where power is firmly concentrated in the presidency.
Suggestions that Ms Choi vetted presidential speeches and was given access to classified documents have exposed Ms Park to public anger and ridicule and, with just over a year left in office, seen her approval ratings plunge into the single digits.
According to official sources cited by the Yonhap news agency, prosecutors were set to seek a formal arrest warrant against Ms Choi soon.
In an effort to deflect some of the criticism, Ms Park had been urged to create a neutral cabinet by bringing in members from outside her ruling conservative Saenuri Party.
But opposition parties have said they need to be consulted on any appointments and also insist that any reshuffle should be preceded by a full investigation of Ms Park’s relationship with Ms Choi.
The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea said yesterday’s changes were purely cosmetic.
The media has portrayed the 60-year-old Ms Choi as a Rasputin-like figure, who wielded an unhealthy influence over Ms Park that continued after her presidential election victory in December 2012.
Earlier yesterday, Ms Choi was seen entering the Seoul prosecutors office for a third day of questioning.
The YTN news channel showed footage of Ms Choi, her face covered with a surgical mask and a dark coat covering her prison outfit, disembarking from a bus that brought her from the prison where she had spent a second night in custody. –
Choi Soon-sil, who is at the heart of a lurid political scandal engulfing South Korea’s President Park Geunhye, is escorted by police from a detention centre to the Central District Prosecutor’s Office in Seoul yesterday.