- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, March 12 (UPI) — Resisting strong protests by senior prosecutors, South Korea's new president conducted a controversial reshuffle of top prosecution posts Tuesday, the first move in what promises to be a drastic reform drive.

President Roh Moo-hyun dismissed Prosecutor General Kim Kak-young, who had protested a reform plan to overhaul the country's judicial system based on seniority.

Roh, who took office two weeks ago with pledges of a sweeping reform, nominated Song Kwang-soo, 53, as the top prosecutor, disregarding the seniority principle in the appointment. Song faces a parliamentary hearing before being formally appointed.

The shake-up, which affected 38 senior prosecution posts, is expected to force a number of higher-level prosecutors to step down, which can result in fundamental changes in the judicial system.

Over the past week, South Korea was gripped by a controversy over Roh's prosecution reform plan, which prosecutors blast as aimed at tightening the president's control over the prosecution, one of the country's most powerful agencies. Prosecutors have emerged as the first major force to challenge Roh's reformist campaign.

Facing the challenges, Roh put himself into a stormy debate on television with junior prosecutors over how to reform the organization tainted by a series of scandals and political fraternization.

In the first open debate with a group of junior prosecutors, which was broadcast live by the country's three main television stations over the weekend, Roh dismissed prosecutors' suspicions that his reform plan was a "political backroom deal" to overwhelm the country's top law-enforcement agency.

"It is a shortcut to reform to replace figures soaked in past practices and change the system quickly," Roh told younger prosecutors. While sympathizing with junior prosecutors' demands for reform, Roh said he would push ahead with the reshuffle, making clear his lack of faith in the prosecution leadership.

The prosecution uproar has erupted since Kang Kum-sil, a 46-year-old reformist lawyer, last month became the country's youngest and first female justice minister.

Prosecutors were further shocked after Kang vowed seek a radical drive to disregard seniority and academic or personal backgrounds in appointments. Kang said the prosecution service must be overhauled to ensure independence and political neutrality.

Roh had expressed regrets over the protests and urged prosecutors to accept reforms, which he said is intended to fundamentally reform the prosecution so as to secure its independence and ensure that it remains politically neutral.

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