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Scandal-rocked South Korean president Park replaces PM

A presidential spokesman said Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-Ahn had been replaced “in connection with the current situation.”

world Updated: Nov 02, 2016 15:24 IST
South Korea political scandal,Park Geun-Hye,Choi Soon-Sil
Former South Korean prime minister Hwang Kyo-ahn (L) during a meeting with China's President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (AFP File Photo)

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye replaced her prime minister and finance minister Wednesday, as she scrambled to contain a damaging political scandal over a close friend accused of meddling in state affairs.

The top-level reshuffle, which also saw a new public safety minister, was the latest attempt to appease growing public anger with the president and her administration.

Park has been engulfed in a political storm over allegations that she allowed long-time friend Choi Soon-Sil, who holds no political position, to vet her speeches and have a voice in policy decisions -- including cabinet appointments.

Choi is currently being detained and questioned by prosecutors over her links to Park and other allegations of influence-peddling and embezzlement.

A spokesman at the Seoul Prosecutors Office said a formal request had been made Wednesday to a local court to issue an arrest warrant for Choi on charges of fraud and abuse of power.

The fraud relates to allegations that Choi -- who is already in emergency detention -- used her friendship with Park to strongarm companies like Samsung into donating large sums to non-profit foundations Choi set up and used for her personal gain.

- ‘Abuse of power’ -

The spokesman said the “abuse of power” charge -- usually restricted to government officials -- was based on allegations that Choi worked with one of Park’s top presidential aides, Ahn Jong-Beom, to secure the corporate donations.

Ahn, who was forced to resign at the weekend, presented himself for questioning by prosecutors earlier Wednesday.

A presidential spokesman said Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-Ahn had been replaced “in connection with the current situation.”

The new premier was named as Kim Byong-Joon, a former top aide to the late liberal president Roh Moo-Hyun.

Kim Byong-joon, who was nominated prime minister by South Korean President Park Geun-hye, smiles as he arrives at his office in Seoul, South Korea on Wednesday. (AP Photo)

The prime minister is a largely symbolic post in South Korea, where power is firmly concentrated in the presidency.

It is the only cabinet post requiring parliamentary approval. Opposition parties said the reshuffle was a smokescreen and suggested they would block Kim’s nomination.

“People demanded that the president get rid of the Choi Soon-Sil-controlled cabinet, but this is just a second Choi Soon-Sil cabinet,” a spokesman for the main opposition Democratic Party said.

The media has portrayed the 60-year-old Choi as a Rasputin-like figure, who wielded an unhealthy influence over Park that continued after her presidential election victory in December 2012.

First Published: Nov 02, 2016 15:24 IST