New PM finally takes office

 

The South Korean Prime Minister, Mr Kim Jong-pil, officially took office yesterday after winning parliamentary approval which had been delayed for five months amid feuds with opposition members.

Mr Kim, a conservative leader of the ruling coalition, received 171 out of 255 ballots in a televised vote in the 299-member National Assembly. He was named Prime Minister in February when the President, Mr Kim Dae-jung, took office. But the main opposition Grand National Party, with sufficient numbers to hold up the choice, had forced Mr Kim Jongpil to serve as acting premier.

The assembly also selected subcommittee chiefs to normalise legislative affairs paralysed by disputes over a ruling party campaign to secure a majority.

President Kim came to power at the head of a minority coalition and has been desperately attempting to woo opposition lawmakers over to government ranks.

The fray in parliament has undermined the goverment's campaign to ride out a biting economic crisis. The President has proposed a sweeping change in complicated legal systems to attract more foreign investment and enhance the competitiveness of banking and corporate sectors.

Meanwhile, in the southern city of Ulsan, thousands of riot police backed by armoured vehicles and helicopters besieged the Hyundai Motor Co premises yesterday after the authorities threatened to use force to evict striking workers.

Workers at the factory are staging a sit-down protest in the factory compound, defying a company lockout order.

About 15,000 police, with special units including a never-before deployed unit of policewomen, were on alert. The police action followed a warning by presidential spokesman, Mr Park Ji-won, that the government was considering the use of force to end Hyundai's month-long dispute over job cuts.

The dispute has seriously affected Hyundai's sales and production. The labour ministry estimated Hyundai's total losses at about £700 million.