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(3rd LD) Foreign Minister Yu offers resignation: ministry

All Headlines 18:04 September 04, 2010

(ATTN: RECASTS lead, paras 3, 7; UPDATES with possible successors at bottom)
By Chang Jae-soon and Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Sept. 4 (Yonhap) -- South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan offered to resign Saturday, a day after he was upbraided by President Lee Myung-bak over the controversial hiring of his daughter by his ministry.

"Minister Yu has decided to voluntarily step down as he felt sorry to the people about the trouble the hiring of his daughter has caused," ministry spokesman Kim Young-sun told reporters.

Yu's resignation is likely to be accepted, a presidential aide said on condition of anonymity, though President Lee is expected to withhold his final decision until a special audit into the case is finished.

Yu is the longest-serving Cabinet minister under the current administration, working in the job since the start of the Lee administration in February 2008.

His resignation comes amid a flurry of diplomacy to revive international talks on North Korea's nuclear programs. It also comes ahead of Seoul's hosting of a summit of the Group of 20 advanced and emerging economies in November.

Yu's departure, however, is not expected to affect South Korea's foreign policy and its stance on North Korea. Seoul has urged Pyongyang to display through action that it is serious about giving up its nuclear programs and show a "responsible attitude" over its deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in March.

The resignation came just days after Lee's picks for the prime minister and two other Cabinet posts gave up their nominations over alleged ethical lapses, such as fake registration of home addresses and real estate speculation.

On Friday, Yu apologized after allegations of special favors surfaced over the hiring of his 35-year-old daughter for a mid-level post and said that she would not take the job. Still, Yu contended that the hiring process was fair, but public anger has not subsided.

President Lee lamented after being briefed on the case, and ordered a "thorough" audit, his aides said.

Earlier this week, the ministry selected Yu's daughter for a post handling free trade agreement affairs. The move came after the ministry turned down all eight applicants, including the minister's daughter, in an earlier hiring process for the same post.

That prompted allegations that the ministry rejected all applicants to give the minister's daughter a second chance because she lacked a valid document showing her foreign language capabilities at the time. The foreign language test score she turned in for the earlier process had already expired.

By the time the ministry started a new hiring process, Yu's daughter had obtained a valid score. She was among three finalists after a document-based screening aimed at verifying academic and career backgrounds as well as foreign language abilities. After an interview, she was selected.

The hiring committee consisted of three outside experts and two ministry officials.

Yu's daughter had earlier worked as a contract-based official at the ministry's FTA bureau for three years from 2006 before quitting last year. The new job, also a contract-based post, runs until February 2012.

The ministry's Web site has been flooded with messages criticizing Yu.

According to government sources, the most likely successor to Yu is senior presidential security secretary Kim Sung-hwan, a career diplomat who had also served as vice foreign minister before moving to the presidential office in 2008.

Other possible candidates include former ambassador to Washington Lee Tae-sik and former ambassador to Russia Lee Kyu-hyung.



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