March 15, 2006

S.Korea’s powerful PM leaves office over golf gaffe

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan
officially left office on Wednesday for playing golf while a
railway strike was causing transport chaos, ending a run as one
of the country's most powerful premiers.

President Roh Moo-hyun accepted his resignation on Tuesday
amid calls for Lee's dismissal for failing to attend to the
rail strike that began on March 1. He played golf instead on
that day, a national holiday, with a group of businessmen,
including one who had been convicted of financial crimes.

In South Korea, executive power is vested with the
president. But Roh, who campaigned on a pledge to share power,
had given considerable authority to the prime minister.

Lee became prime minister in June 2004 and was largely
responsible for the daily running of domestic policy. He was
considered one of the most powerful premiers in the country's

The presidential Blue House said a search for Lee's
successor had begun but no one had been named yet.

Vice Education Minister Lee Gi-woo, a close confidant of
the outgoing prime minister and a member of the March 1 golf
outing, also offered to resign on Wednesday over the gaffe, the
education ministry said.