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(2nd LD) Kim Hwang-sik sworn in as prime minister after Assembly approval

All Headlines 18:01 October 01, 2010

(ATTN: UPDATES with Kim's inauguration in paras 1-2, 8-10; CHANGES headline)
By Shim Sun-ah

SEOUL, Oct. 1 (Yonhap) -- Kim Hwang-sik on Friday took office as the Lee Myung-bak administration's third prime minister, pledging to dedicate himself to the president's campaign to build a "fair, warm and first-rate" country.

Kim's inauguration came after the National Assembly approved his nomination as new prime minister in a plenary vote, which was boycotted by many opposition lawmakers criticizing him over suspicions of draft dodging and irregular wealth accumulation.

The Assembly passed the motion on the confirmation of Kim as prime minister by a vote of 169 to 71 with four abstentions. A total of 244 lawmakers took part in the secret full floor vote.

Most of the yes votes came from the ruling Grand National Party (GNP), which commands 171 seats in the 299-member parliament, compared with 87 seats for the main opposition Democratic Party (DP).

The DP, before the voting, adopted a collective opinion against the nominee, saying he is not ethically fit for the top Cabinet post.

Following the parliamentary approval, President Lee Myung-bak formally appointed Kim to succeed Chung Un-chan, who resigned as prime minister in early August after failing to get parliamentary approval for the revision of a controversial government relocation plan.

Soon after Chung's resignation, President Lee nominated former provincial governor Kim Tae-ho as prime minister, but Kim was forced to quit in late August due to suspicion of corruption, prolonging the vacancy at the top Cabinet post.

The new prime minister, in his inaugural speech, pledged to take a leading role in the government drive for a "fair and warm society" as a life-long judge.

"I, together with all of you, will stand in the forefront of a campaign led by President Lee to establish a first-rate country through the realization of a fair society," the 62-year-old Kim said in his inaugural address.

Making people firmly abide by laws and principles would be the first step to the goal, he stressed.

A former Supreme Court justice and the current chief of the state audit agency, Kim is the country's first prime minister to come from South Jeolla Province, the southwestern region that has been sidelined by the rival southeastern province of Gyeongsang.

Born in Jangseong, a small county some 300 kilometers south of Seoul, in 1948, Kim studied law at Seoul National University. He passed the state bar exam in 1972 and sat as a judge at a number of local courts. He served as a Supreme Court justice from 2005-2008 and became chief of the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) in September 2008.

During the two-day confirmation hearing held earlier this week, the opposition parties raised suspicions over his military service exemption in 1972 and allegations of an undue accumulation of wealth as a long-term judge and from influence-peddling for a local college headed by his elderly sister to receive state funding.

Opposition lawmakers accused Kim of doctoring his medical records to evade the draft. Records show Kim delayed conscription in 1971 after being diagnosed with thyroid gland disease at a hospital run by his brother. A year later, Kim was exempted from military service for having an extreme imbalance in vision in his right and left eyes. He said his conscription waiver was legitimate.

Kim is also suspected of having taken a huge amount of cash from his sisters without paying gift taxes, and purposely delaying the announcement of the result of an inspection by the BAI into a controversial government project to revamp four major rivers in the country. Kim denied the allegations during the hearing, but opposition lawmakers said his answers were not enough to dispel all the suspicions.


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