South Korea ferry disaster

South Korean president shakes up cabinet to win trust after ferry disaster

President Park Guen-hye replaced seven cabinet members on Friday, following sharp criticism of her administration's handling of the disaster

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 June, 2014, 1:04pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 June, 2014, 1:16pm

South Korea’s president replaced seven Cabinet members Friday in an apparent bid to win back sagging public trust in her administration after April’s ferry disaster.

President Park Geun-hye has come under harsh criticism for the government’s handling of the sinking of the Sewol, which left 304 people – mostly high school students on a school trip – dead or missing. She had already nominated a new prime minister and replaced her defence minister and intelligence chief.

The most high-profile change will see Choi Kyoung-Hwan, a ruling party lawmaker, replacing Hyun Oh-Seok as finance minister in charge of the economy, the presidential Blue House said.

Park also named six other new ministers responsible for security, education, labour, culture, gender equality and science.

Chong Jong-Sup, a Seoul National University law professor, was named to head the ministry of security and public administration, which will take the lead in implementing promised reforms following the Sewol disaster.

The seven minister designates were required to undergo National Assembly hearings but their appointments don’t need approval from the legislature.

Park’s popularity has plummeted since the sinking but her ruling conservative party didn’t suffer a big defeat in local elections earlier this month. Her party won eight of 17 important mayoral provincial races in the June 4 elections while her liberal rivals took the other nine.

Earlier this week, Park nominated a new prime minister to replace Chung Hong-Won, who was forced to resign over the Sewol tragedy.

The president also named a new director of the domestic spy agency, the National Intelligence Service.

The cause of the sinking is still being investigated. Officials say excessive cargo on the ship, crew members’ abandonment of passengers, and the coast guard’s slow, unprofessional rescue operations are likely contributing factors for the disaster.

Authorities have been launching massive manhunts for weeks to capture Yoo Byung-eun, a fugitive billionaire who they believe owns the ferry because his and his family’s alleged corruption may have contributed to the sinking.

On Friday, police detained an elder brother of Yoo on suspicion of embezzlement, according to local police officers.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse