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S. Korea’s Park keeps premier who quit

AFP-JIJI

After two failed attempts to appoint a new prime minister, South Korean President Park Geun-hye announced Thursday her “agonized” decision to retain the incumbent, who resigned over April’s ferry disaster.

In an effort to assuage criticism of the government’s emergency response, Chung Hong-won resigned just 10 days after the Sewol passenger ferry sank on April 16 with the loss of 300 lives.

Park accepted his resignation, but Chung was asked to remain in the job until a successor was found — a task that turned into an embarrassing debacle for the president.

Her first nominee, a retired Supreme Court justice, was forced to withdraw because of criticism over the large income he earned in private practice after leaving the bench.

The second, former journalist Moon Chang-keuk, withdrew on Tuesday over comments he made suggesting Japan’s repressive colonial rule on the Korean Peninsula was “God’s will.”

The two climb-downs were a fresh blow to Park, whose popularity ratings have already reached their lowest level since she took office 16 months ago.

The Sewol sinking triggered a surge in anti-establishment sentiment, which the opposition was able to exploit in its take-down of Park’s nominees.

As well as embarrassing the president, the opposition has sought to push the image of Park as an authoritarian leader whose decision-making — and personnel management — is flawed by a reliance on a very small clique of advisers.

Apparently fearful of another nominee battle, Park was eventually left with little choice but to retrospectively reject Chung’s initial resignation.