South Korea's Roh rejects cabinet resignation
( 2003-10-11 16:51) (Agencies)
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun told his country on Saturday he had immediately rejected the resignations tendered by his cabinet and presidential secretaries over an aide's link to a political funding scandal.
The ministers and aides had tendered their resignations in the wake of Roh's comments on Friday that he felt responsibility for the involvement of a close aide in a political funding scandal linked to the SK Group conglomerate and he would seek renewed public support before a parliamentary election in April.
"It's natural for the cabinet and secretaries to feel responsibility, but they did not commit wrongdoings. These are my problems," the 57-year-old leader told a televised news conference. The cabinet later agreed to heed Roh and stay on.
The plain-spoken but gaffe-prone former lawyer acknowledged that his impromptu offer to seek a new mandate had "raised worries in many quarters about confusion and interruptions in governance", but insisted he must dispel distrust.
"I believe there are many who can do the job of president better than I. Stabilising the political situation is far better than going ahead with months of continuous chaos and struggle," he said.
Roh said on Saturday he thought some kind of referendum was the right way to gauge support but his country lacked formal procedures for doing so.
He said he rejected the resignations because he was confident that the cabinet, led by Prime Minister Goh Kun, could ably handle state affairs while he renewed his mandate.
While trying to reverse a recession in Asia's fourth largest economy, South Korea and its diplomatic allies are also locked in a standoff with North Korea over the communist state's nuclear arms programmes.
Roh, who is due to meet US President George W. Bush this month at a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Bangkok, also faces a tough decision on how to respond to a US request to contribute combat troops to Iraq. Opponents of the war have staged street protests against any dispatch of troops.
On Friday financial markets ignored the latest of a series of unscripted remarks by Roh, whose only government post before he took office in February was a short spell as fisheries minister.
In May, exasperated at a truckers' strike, Roh declared in a speech: "I feel incompetent as president and a sense of crisis that I will not be able to perform my presidential duties."
Analysts said the candour Roh brought to a staid and aloof office was welcome by Koreans at first but was now hurting him.
"He's a genuine, frank and honest person, but he responds from the cuff," said a Western diplomat in Seoul.
"This is not going to help him, because people will say this is unpresidential," the diplomat added.
Roh has seen his reformist credentials tarnished by a number of scandals involving former aides and also watched his ratings plummet to about 25 percent. Roh recently left his political party, which had split into two rival factions.
The latest row involves Choi Do-sul, a Roh confidante of 20 years who was named by prosecutors as having received funds from the scandal-tainted SK Group before last December's presidential election.
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