Park accepts PM’s resignation

Chung to stay until disaster is dealt with

President Park Geun-hye Sunday decided to accept Prime Minister Chung Hong-won’s resignation for mishandling the Sewol disaster.

However, presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook quoted President Park as saying that the top priority is to deal with the aftermath of the nation’s worst maritime disaster.

Chung will stay on for a while until the situation settles down, Min said.

Park’s decision followed strong criticism by opposition party leaders, who called Chung “irresponsible” for trying to make an exit at a time when salvage efforts are still under way.

Chung called a news conference to announce he intended to step down, offering apologies to the families of over 300 passengers on the ferry who are confirmed dead or listed as missing.

The news conference came amid a turn for the worst in public opinion against the government, triggered by a series of mishandlings that began during the initial stage of the accident.

Some government officials acted inappropriately adding fuel to the public resentment.

A Cabinet reshuffle will likely take place when Chung is replaced.

Security and Public Administration Minister Kang Byung-kyu, Education Minister Seo Nam-soo and Oceans and Fisheries Minister Lee Ju-young are among those most likely to go.

“Watching the pain of the families who lost their loved ones and grief and anger of the people, I felt that the prime minister should take responsibility,” Chung told a press conference in a government complex in Seoul.

“I mulled leaving earlier but believed that the top priority is to deal with the aftermath of the accident. But I decided to quit because I cannot burden the administration by keeping my post.”

The governing Saenuri Party said that the measure would give momentum for reforms in the country to prevent a recurrence of another incident such as the Sewol catastrophe.

In contrast, the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy rebuffed the decision as “irresponsible” as the head of the emergency committee for the nation’s worst maritime disaster in two decades shunned the duties of his tough job.

Political observers are divided into two opposing camps on this, as are relatives of the victims of the boat accident. The Sewol carried 476 passengers and sank in waters off the southwestern coast on April 16.

Almost 200 are confirmed dead and more than 100 still remain unaccounted for. The government has come under criticism for bungling its initial response to the tragedy.

“You cannot sack firefighters who are putting out the blazing flames no matter how incompetent they are. You should extinguish the fire first and then dismiss the firefighters,” said political commentator Park Sang-heon.

“In the sense, Chung’s decision seems to be inappropriate. As the head of the government control tower, he should focus on tackling the aftermaths of the Sewol accident now.”

By contrast, Choi Jin, head of the Institute of Presidential Leadership, said that Chung’s decision came at the right time.

“The search and rescue works are carried out pretty much. In this climate, it is indispensable for Prime Minister Chung to leave to take responsibility,” said Choi.

Some even raised the possibility of a resignation of the Cabinet en masse at a time when public sentiment is unfavorable toward the government and the ruling party and when the important June 4 local elections are just weeks away. By Kim Tae-gyu The korea times

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