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(LEAD) Moon holds dinner with ministers amid speculation over Cabinet reshuffle

All News 13:53 January 11, 2019

(ATTN: UPDATES with more info throughout)

SEOUL, Jan. 11 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in has hosted a dinner for nine ministers who double as lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), his office said Friday, amid speculation over a Cabinet reshuffle.

Moon invited the ministers, including Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae and Interior Minister Kim Boo-kyum, to the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae for dinner Thursday. He held his new year press conference earlier that day.

Noh Young-min, Moon's new chief of staff, and Kang Gi-jung, the new top presidential secretary for political affairs, also joined the occasion.

Speculation is ripe that Moon may carry out a Cabinet reshuffle around the Lunar New Year holiday in early February.

The president could replace ministers who double as DP lawmakers and were named as Cabinet members right after Moon took office in May 2017, given that the country's parliamentary elections will be held in 2020.

Six ministers, including Interior Minister Kim and Culture Minister Do Jong-hwan, fall into this category.

"The dinner was not planned because of a Cabinet reshuffle," presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told reporters.

He said that it was part of Moon's efforts to increase communication among officials from Cheong Wa Dae, the government and the DP.

"There was no talk about a Cabinet reshuffle and the participants had serious discussions over economic issues and state affairs," Kim added.

Despite the presidential office's denial, political analysts expect Moon to carry out the reshuffle this month as Moon has recently replaced his key aides at the office.

But some also said that a potential Cabinet reshuffle could be delayed until after the Lunar New Year holiday as it takes time to vet candidates.

"There was no talk about the time it takes to step down from ministerial posts or preparation for the parliamentary elections," a minister who attended the dinner said.

This photo, taken Jan. 8, 2019, shows President Moon Jae-in (R, front) shaking hands with Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon at a tea meeting ahead of a Cabinet meeting. (Yonhap)


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