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South Korean President's top aides resign
( 2003-10-11 11:09) (Agencies)

South Korean Cabinet members and top presidential aides submitted their resignations Saturday, the government said, amid a deepening crisis over the leadership of President Roh Moo-hyun.

Prime Minister Goh Kun and Cabinet members offered to quit, government spokesman Cho Young-dong told local reporters at a briefing. Goh's office confirmed Cho's remarks.

Roh's approval ratings plummeted after corruption scandals surfaced involving his aides. Saturday's resignations come one day after Roh said he would ask South Koreans whether they still have confidence in him.

Roh said Friday that he wanted to get a "pardon" from the people and restore moral strength in his 8-month-old government besieged by a hostile National Assembly and unfriendly news media.

But he was unsure whether holding a referendum on himself would be appropriate, saying that could hurt national security amid international efforts to stop North Korea's suspected development of nuclear weapons.

Roh said he has yet to find out how he can determine whether the people still trust him but he hopes to have an answer by the time the country votes to elect parliament next April.

Roh's initiative was a risky political gamble aimed at winning a fresh mandate for his increasingly unpopular government. The opposition Grand National Party, or GNP, which controls a majority at the National Assembly, immediately demanded that Roh face a national referendum.

"I thought about holding a vote of confidence on me, but I am not sure whether it is appropriate. There is a limit to that idea because of national security concerns," Roh said in a hurriedly called news conference.

Roh's statement came as prosecutors were investigating an allegation that Choi Do-sool received $956,000 from SK Group, South Korea's third-largest conglomerate, shortly after Roh won December's presidential election.

Choi is a longtime Roh aide but it wasn't immediately clear if he was among those that submitted resignations.

SK, an oil and mobile phone giant, is also accused of giving $8.7 million to the GNP. The opposition party denied the charge.

A sense of crisis has grown in Roh's government as his approval ratings crashed from nearly 80 percent to below 30 percent since he took office in February.

Several aides have been embroiled in allegations that they collected shady money from businessmen.

The National Assembly has embarrassed Roh by casting a no-confidence vote on Roh's home minister and rejecting his nominee for another key government post. Labor unions staged strikes. Major newspapers attacked the way he handled state affairs. Roh fought back with barbs and libel lawsuits.

The political opposition has also criticized Roh for being too lenient on communist North Korea, and has accused him of condoning anti-American sentiment in South Korea.

"I deeply apologize to the people for this disgraceful incident," Roh said, referring to Choi's scandal. "Regardless of the results of the prosecutors' ongoing investigation, I am going to take responsibility."

Choi has been a Roh aide for more than two decades. He quit his job as a presidential secretary in August to run in parliamentary elections in April.

There was no evidence that Roh was involved in the former aide's scandal. Prosecutors had no plan to question the president.

Roh said his decision was "neither reckless nor immature," and that he wanted to run state affairs "with a moral pride in what I do."

"The people want a clean president not embroiled in suspicions," he said. "Even if there are (suspicions), the people may want their president to get a pardon through a judgment."

Throughout his political career, Roh has been known for bold and maverick initiatives.

Efforts by his supporters to take over the ruling Millennium Democratic Party and regroup it into a new political party more in line with the president's policy fell into disarray last month when many legislators resisted.

Roh's supporters left the party and established their own. Roh quit the MDP, too.

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