- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, Feb. 27 (UPI) — South Korea's newly inaugurated President Roh Moo-hyun got a boost Wednesday night as the opposition-dominated parliament endorsed his candidate for prime minister.

The approval came after Roh, who took office Tuesday, spent his first day as the country's president without a Cabinet. Under the law, the president needs to consult the prime minister before selecting the ministers.

Parliament approved Goh Kun's appointment by a 163-81 margin. There were two abstentions or invalid votes.

"I declare that Goh Kun was confirmed as prime minister," National Assembly Speaker Park Kwan-yong said at the end of a parliamentary session.

The endorsement paved the way for Roh to appoint a Cabinet Thursday to tackle a new era of reform.

His aides told United Press International that Yoon Young-kwan, a Seoul National University professor who served as the transition team's foreign policy chief, would be named foreign minister. Roh will also likely appoint Cho Young-kil, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as defense minister, they said.

In an inaugural speech Tuesday, Roh vowed to bring peace and prosperity to the divided peninsula by seeking reconciliation with North Korea.

At present, Pyongyang is engaged in a diplomatic dispute with the United States over its suspected nuclear weapons.

Goh's approval set the stage for the formation of a new Cabinet.

Goh, 65, has held gubernatorial, mayoral and Cabinet posts, and served as prime minister in 1997-98 under former President Kim Young-sam. He stepped down as Seoul mayor last year.

The confirmation came after the conservative opposition Grand National Party boycotted the vote, demanding that Roh's ruling party agree first to the appointment of a special council to investigate illegal payments made to Pyongyang that were linked to former President Kim Dae-jung, whose term expired Tuesday.

Kim offered an apology that his government helped the Hyundai business conglomerate arrange a $200 million payment to North Korea before a summit in 2000 with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong Il.

Hyundai recently acknowledged it secretly transferred some $200 million, obtained from a South Korean state-run bank, to North Korea just ahead of the summit in June 2000. Under South Korean law, any secret financial aid to North Korea is illegal.

The "money-for-summit" scandal damaged the reputation of Kim, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts to improve long-frigid relations with the communist North.

The scandal was also a burden on Roh who was elected after pledging to follow in Kim's footsteps by seeking inter-Korean reconciliation.

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