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New South Korean president faces parliamentary showdown on choice for prime minister

New South Korean president faces parliamentary showdown on choice for prime minister

New South Korean President Lee Myung-bak faced his first political showdown Tuesday as the opposition-dominated parliament considered his choice for prime minister amid allegations of ethical lapses among Cabinet appointees.
Lee, a conservative former businessman, took office Monday with a pledge to boost the economy, strengthen ties with the United States and end a protracted standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons.
His Cabinet choices, however, including former Foreign Minister Han Seung-soo as prime minister, have drawn fire over allegations of ethical lapses and enrichment through real-estate speculation. Parliament was to vote on Han later Tuesday.
The main opposition United Democratic Party _ which has the largest voting bloc with 141 seats in the 298-member National Assembly _ has blasted Han for failing to report an expensive apartment his wife purchased in 2001, which violated the ethics law covering government officials.
Han, South Korea's foreign minister at the time, has responded he was too busy to report it as he was concurrently serving as president of the U.N. General Assembly.
A veteran of South Korean politics, the 72-year-old Han has held a slew of other high-profile posts, including finance minister in 1996-97.
Though the post of prime minister is largely ceremonial with little decision-making power, the occupant leads the country if the president becomes incapacitated.
Lee's gender equality designate, Lee Choon-ho, offered to resign a day before Monday's inauguration amid suspicions she engaged in real-estate speculation.
The opposition party also demanded Lee's appointees for the posts of unification minister and environment minister step down, threatening to boycott parliamentary hearings on their alleged real estate speculation later this week.
A senior presidential aide, meanwhile, has been accused of plagiarism.
The National Assembly only has the power to reject the prime minister-designate. It carries out hearings of nominees for other Cabinet posts but cannot reject their appointments.
Lee's ascent to the nation's top job came in spite of accusations of ethical lapses on his part that dogged him until just days before the inauguration.
Special prosecutors last week cleared Lee of various allegations, including that he was involved in a 2001 stock price manipulation case. Lee, who flatly denied the charges, was the country's first president-elect to undergo a criminal inquiry.
The new president, meanwhile, spent his second day in office meeting visiting Cambodian, Mongolian and Uzbek leaders following talks Monday with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
In his inauguration speech Monday, Lee vowed to boost economic growth, strengthen ties with traditional ally the United States and reward North Korea with massive investment if it gives up its nuclear ambitions and opens up to the outside world.


Updated : 2021-01-16 22:15 GMT+08:00