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South Korean President Reshuffles Gov't Posts to Ease Public Discontent

By Teresa Watanabe
Los Angeles Times

SEOUL, South Korea

President Roh Tae Woo fired his internal intelligence chief Monday in a reshuffle of government posts aimed at showing "new resolve" to heed popular discontent expressed in last week's national elections.

One week after the ruling Democratic Liberal Party's upset electoral defeat, Roh moved to punish the intelligence agency blamed for distributing slanderous pamphlets against an opposition candidate shortly before the election. He dismissed Suh Tong Kwon, director of the Agency for National Security Planning and replaced him with Home Minister Lee Sahng Yeon, a former NSP deputy director who hails from a town near Roh's regional power base of Taegu.

Roh also replaced his chief economic assistant, two other senior aides and three Cabinet officers in the reshuffle.

In addition, Roh announced the creation of an advisory committee to recommend ways to revitalize the economy, which grew 8.4 percent last year but has suffered from a 10 percent inflation rate, a $10 billion trade deficit and sluggish exports.

The ruling party has blamed economic woes and allegations of vote-rigging and fraud for its March 24 electoral defeat, in which voters cut its strength in the National Assembly from 72 percent to 49 percent.

Roh's action was meant to "insure the government administers state affairs with a new resolve, following the people's will demonstrated in last week's election," presidential spokesman Kim Hak Joon said.

But the opposition Democratic Party immediately branded Roh's move as a superficial step and a "stopgap measure" to quell public discontent without tackling real reform. It demanded that Roh also fire Defense Minister Choi Sae Chang and punish army leaders for another scandal involving the alleged doctoring of 560,000 absentee army votes. Two days before the election, an army lieutenant publicly accused his commanders of ordering that the ballots be rigged to give the ruling party an 80 percent edge.

Those allegations, if true, would have far greater ramifications than the slander incident, in which four intelligence agents were arrested for stuffing mailboxes with inflammatory literature against an opposition candidate in Seoul. But the Defense Ministry has denied the rigging accusations, and the lieutenant who made them was immediately arrested on charges of leaving his unit to talk to reporters.

The opposition has also demanded that Prime Minister Chung Won Shik and Roh's entire 23-person Cabinet resign to apologize for the alleged voter fraud.

Other new Cabinet appointees are:

--Lee Dong Ho, new home minister who formerly served as Finance Ministry vice minister, Korea Development Bank president and appointed governor of Chungchong province.

--Kang Hyon Wook, new minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries who formerly served as vice minister of the Economic Planning Board.

--Ro Kun Il, new transportation minister who has served as Roh's senior secretary for administration.

In addition, Roh named as his chief economic aide former Construction Minister Lee Jin Seol succeeding Kim Chong In, who was elected to Parliament last week.

Roh also named Shim Dae Pyung as secretary for administrative affairs and Lim In Kyu as assistant for policy research.