SKorea replaces finance minister to fight crisis
By KELLY OLSEN,AP Business Writer AP - 1 hour 42 minutes ago
SEOUL, South Korea - South Korea's president shook up his economic team Monday, replacing his much criticized finance minister and other officials as the country copes with its biggest crisis in a decade.
President Lee Myung-bak named Yoon Jeung-hyun, a former financial regulator, to head the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, replacing the unpopular Kang Man-soo.
Yoon is the "right person to gain the confidence of the markets for overcoming the economic crisis," Lee Dong-kwan, the president's spokesman said in making the announcement.
The changes were aimed at "economic revival," he said.
Lee Myung-bak took office in February last year vowing to boost economic growth and jobs, saying Asia's fourth-largest economy was underperforming.
The global financial crisis and ensuing slowdown, however, have derailed those plans, with the economy facing the prospect of contracting this year for the first time since 1998.
Monday's shake-up also saw the replacement of the head of the main financial regulatory agency, the Financial Services Commission, and four vice minister-level economic officials.
"The one thing that people must not lose is hope and courage," Yoon told reporters, according to Rim Jin-hong, a ministry official. "If we persevere, things will get better."
Analysts said the changes were largely political in nature and were unlikely to have much impact.
"Frankly speaking, there should be no change in the direction of policy," said Oh Suk-tae, economist at Citibank Korea. All countries are working to "boost their economy and financial markets," he said.
Yu Chang-seon, a political analyst, said getting rid of the unpopular Kang was the key to the shake-up.
"Calls for Kang's ouster have been too strong, not only from the opposition party, but also from within the ruling party as well," Yu said.
Kang, a veteran economic official and considered a close confidant of Lee, has been a lightning rod for critics who say he underestimated the seriousness of the financial crisis.
Financial market reaction was muted. South Korea's benchmark stock index gained 1.4 percent to 1,150.65. The won fell slightly against the dollar, closing 0.3 percent lower at 1,362.50.
Lee also replaced his point man on North Korean affairs, naming Korea University professor Hyun In-taek to head the Unification Ministry at a time of renewed tension with the communist neighbor.
Hyun _ a well-known security expert _ and Lee share the view that aid to North Korea should be conditioned upon Pyongyang's progress in abandoning its nuclear programs.
In total, Lee replaced four minister-level officials and 15 vice minister-level officials in the shakeup.
South Korean leaders often use personnel appointments to regain public confidence.
Associated Press Writer Jae-soon Chang contributed to this report.
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