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Two SKorean Cabinet nominees resign over ethical lapses

Two SKorean Cabinet nominees resign over ethical lapses

Two nominees for South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's first Cabinet resigned Wednesday following allegations of ethical lapses in an embarrassment for the new leader sworn in just two days ago.
Nam Joo-hong, named to be unification minister for dealing with North Korea, and Park Eun-kyung, nominee for environment minister, offered to quit and Lee accepted the resignations, spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said.
They are the second and third Cabinet nominees to resign over allegations of real-estate speculation and other irregularities.
On the eve of Lee's inauguration, his choice for gender equality minister quit, also over allegations she engaged in real-estate speculation.
Nam and Park "conveyed their intention to voluntarily step down this morning, saying they do not want to give a burden to the new government and the president," the spokesman said.
The opposition United Democratic Party has demanded Lee replace the two, boycotting confirmation hearings for them.
Lee's choice of prime minister, Han Seung-soo, is also under a cloud after the nominee was found to have omitted an expensive apartment when reporting his personal assets.
On Tuesday, the opposition party, which forms the largest voting bloc in the National Assembly, delayed a vote on Han's appointment as early as Friday following internal debates on whether to endorse the nomination.
The political impasse has put Lee in the awkward situation of having to work with the Cabinet of his predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun, as he was not able to formally appoint the nominees.
The National Assembly, although it can reject the pick for prime minister, can only offer an opinion on whether choices for other Cabinet posts are appropriate. But if parliament boycotts hearings, Lee has to wait up to 30 days after seeking the legislature's view to formally appoint the ministers.
The presidential spokesman said Lee had been seriously weighing suggestions from leaders of his Grand National Party that he replace some of the appointees under fire, when Nam and Park expressed their intention to resign.
Local media have said Lee and his party were concerned the pair's nominations, unpopular with the public, might affect the party's chances in April's parliamentary elections.
"President Lee said the two made a difficult decision for the sake of the new government," the spokesman said.
"Now that the two have stepped down, I ask the National Assembly" for cooperation in approving the prime minister nomination and others so that the new government can start without a "vacuum in state affairs," the spokesman said.
The United Democrat's have particularly been unhappy with the unification minister-designate, Nam, a former university professor, who is widely considered a hard-liner on North Korea.
Nam has written books heavily critical of reconciliation with the communist state, including one titled, "There Is No Unification."
He has also questioned a reconciliation agreement reached at the first summit between the two Koreas in 2000, along with a follow-up accord reached at their second summit last year.
Later Wednesday, Lee named Byun Do-yoon, a leader of South Korea's YMCA, as minister for gender equality.