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SKorea Justice Minister Resigns        10/14 06:21

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea's justice minister resigned Monday, 
citing the political burden of an investigation into alleged financial crimes 
and academic favors surrounding his family, a scandal that has rocked Seoul's 
liberal government and spurred huge protests.

   Cho Kuk has denied wrongdoing. But the law professor who for years 
cultivated an anti-elitist reformist image said he couldn't remain a government 
minister while ignoring the pain his family was enduring.

   Huge crowds of Cho's supporters and critics have marched in South Korea's 
capital in recent weeks, demonstrating how the months-long saga over Cho has 
deepened the country's political divide.

   Cho said in a statement he was offering to resign to reduce the burden on 
President Moon Jae-in, whose office later said he accepted Cho's offer.

   Cho's resignation came as state prosecutors continued a criminal 
investigation into his university professor wife, brother and other relatives 
over allegations of dubious financial investments, fraud and fake credentials 
for his daughter that may have helped her enter a top university in Seoul and a 
medical school in Busan.

   "I concluded that I should no longer burden the president and the government 
with issues surrounding my family," Cho said in an emailed statement. "I think 
the time has come that the completion of efforts to reform the prosecution 
would only be possible if I step down from my position."

   Moon's liberal Minjoo Party and Cho's supporters, who occupied streets in 
front of a Seoul prosecutors office for the fourth-straight weekend Saturday, 
have claimed the investigation is aimed at intimating Cho, who has pushed for 
reforms that include curbing the power of prosecutors.

   South Korea's main opposition party called Cho's resignation offer "too 
late" and criticized Moon for causing turmoil with a divisive appointment.

   In a meeting with senior aides, Moon said he was "very sorry for 
consequentially creating a lot of conflict between the people" over his 
hand-picked choice but also praised Cho's "passion for prosecutorial reform and 
willingness to calmly withstand various difficulties to get it done."

   Moon had stood firmly by Cho, whom he appointed a month ago despite 
parliamentary resistance.

   But the controversy dented the popularity of Moon and his ruling liberal 
party in recent polls, an alarming development for the liberals ahead of 
parliamentary elections in April.

   The conservative Liberty Korea Party criticized Moon for sticking with Cho 
for too long.

   "Is President Moon Jae-in listening to people's voices only after his and 
his ruling party's approval ratings face the danger of a nosedive?" the 
conservative Liberty Korea Party said in a statement.

   In South Korea, prosecutors have exclusive authority to indict and seek 
warrants for criminal suspects and exercise control over police investigative 
activities. They can also directly initiate criminal investigations even when 
there's no complaint.

   Critics say such powers are excessive and have prompted past conservative 
governments to use the prosecution as a political tool to suppress opponents 
and carry out vendettas.

   The controversy over Cho has struck a nerve in a country facing widening 
inequality and brutally competitive school environments and has tarnished the 
image of Moon, who vowed to restore faith in fairness and justice after 
replacing President Park Geun-hye, who was impeached and jailed for corruption.

   Recent polls indicate Moon's popularity has sank to the lowest levels since 
he took office. In a survey of some 1,000 South Koreans released last Friday by 
Gallup Korea, 51% of the respondents negatively rated Moon's performance in 
state affairs, compared to 43% who said he was doing a good job. The survey's 
margin of error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.


(KR)

 
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