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(2nd LD) Ex-JCS chief Kim Kwan-jin tapped new defense minister

All Headlines 19:30 November 26, 2010

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with security condition, nominee's hometown, other details)

SEOUL, Nov. 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has named Kim Kwan-jin, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), as his new defense minister, Lee's office Cheong Wa Dae announced Friday, as the country's military reels from North Korea's deadly artillery attack earlier this week.

The 61-year-old former Army general replaces Kim Tae-young, who is to step down to take responsibility for national security loopholes and bungling an initial response to the North's bombardment Tuesday of a border island in the Yellow Sea that left two marines and at least two civilians dead. More than a dozen others were wounded, with houses and other buildings destroyed. Tensions are running high as the North threatens a full-blown war.

Cheong Wa Dae said the president considered Kim Kwan-jin's "expertise and insight in policy and strategy" based on 40 years of experience in the military. Kim served as chairman of the JCS from 2006 to 2008 prior to his retirement.

"He has been assessed as a typical soldier with rationality and strong leadership," senior Cheong Wa Dae secretary for public affairs Hong Sang-pyo said.

He added that Kim is deemed "suitable for the post of defense minister ... at a time when the responsibility of the defense ministry is more important than ever in protecting the life and property of the people."

Observers said the president appears to have taken into account his hometown, Jeonju, a major city 243 kilometers south of Seoul in North Jeolla Province, a political stronghold of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP). South Korean politics is plagued by regionalism and voters are highly sensitive to which hometowns officials and politicians are originally from.

Cheong Wa Dae apparently expects the DP to take a relatively soft stance in the upcoming confirmation hearing session, they said.

The ruling and opposition parties have yet to set the schedule for the hearing, although parliamentary approval is not required in Kim's appointment. The outgoing minister Kim Tae-young will stay in office until the minister-in-waiting is formally appointed.


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