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Roh Rejects Aides' Offers to Resign

October 11, 2003|Barbara Demick | Times Staff Writer

SEOUL — South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun today turned down offers of resignation by his prime minister and other Cabinet members in another tumultuous episode in his political crisis.

The Cabinet members submitted their resignation offers this morning in solidarity with Roh, who announced Friday that he might call for a special election so the public could cast a vote of confidence on his troubled presidency.

Roh, 57, is less than eight months into a five-year term, but his popularity has plunged amid a series of financial scandals and a stagnant economy.

The war in Iraq and tensions over North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons also have put Roh, a left-leaning labor lawyer, in a bind.

South Korea is to decide shortly whether it will send troops to Iraq to assist the United States, a move strongly opposed by Roh's core supporters on university campuses and in the labor movement.

The offers to resign were made by 19 Cabinet members, including Prime Minister Goh Kun, as well as an unspecified number of Roh's senior aides. But within an hour, Roh held a news conference to reject the idea.

"This must not cause a national state of confusion," the president said.

Nevertheless, the events of the last few days have clearly undermined public confidence and thrown the fledgling government into turmoil.

"Roh seems to be setting himself up for a California-style recall vote," said one prominent Korea expert who asked not to be quoted by name.

"Nobody understands what is going on right now. You've got some sort of Kabuki drama playing out."

Members of the business community also complained that Roh's erratic moves of recent days were eroding confidence in South Korea.

The Federation of Korean Industries said Friday that it was concerned that Roh's plan to call for a vote of confidence on his presidency -- a highly unconventional move -- "could cause unrest in our society, adding to the current hardships in the domestic economy."

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