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Embattled South Korea justice minister resigns amid protests

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Embattled South Korea justice minister resigns amid protests
FILE PHOTO: Justice Minister nominee Cho Kuk attends a hearing at the national assembly in Seoul, South Korea, September 6, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo   -   Copyright  Kim Hong-Ji(Reuters)
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By Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s recently appointed justice minister resigned on Monday saying a graft scandal swirling around his family had become a political burden for President Moon Jae-in’s government.

Selected by Moon to lead the ministry, Cho Kuk had been tasked with reforming the prosecutors’ office, which critics say has long been susceptible to political pressure.

Since his appointment on Sept.9 there have been street protests against Cho, due to investigations mounted by prosecutors into his family’s financial investments and the university admissions of his children.

“I decided I must not burden the President and the government with my family’s affairs anymore,” Cho said in a statement announcing his resignation.

“I believe that now is the time for me to step down so that reforming the prosecutor’s office will be successfully completed,” he added.

Cho’s decision to quit was his own, Moon’s chief political advisor Kang Gi-jung told reporters.

“I am very sorry for causing so much conflict among the people,” Moon said in a meeting with senior aides on Monday, referring to the protests.

“But… Minister Cho Kuk’s passionate commitment to prosecution reform, and his attitude to endure all kinds of difficulties for it, once again aroused sympathy for the urgency of prosecution reform.”

The controversy over Cho, as well as public discontent over a sluggish economy and stalled diplomatic efforts with North Korea, have pushed Moon’s approval ratings to fresh lows.

In its latest survey, pollster Realmeter said 41.4% approved of Moon’s performance, the lowest since he took office in 2017.

The survey of 2,502 people conducted last week found 56.1% disapproved of his performance, up from 52.3% in the first week of October, the pollster said on Monday.

Cho had attended a news conference earlier on Monday where he released details of proposed reforms to the prosecutor’s office, such as closing some powerful investigative units accused by critics of operating without proper oversight.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Jack Kim, Darren Schuettler & Simon Cameron-Moore)

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