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Shake-Up Giving South Korea a New Prime Minister

South Korea’s president on Thursday nominated a new prime minister and accepted the resignations of two senior officials, the beginning of a shake-up that follows widespread criticism of the government’s handling of last month’s ferry disaster.

President Park Geun-hye nominated Ahn Dai-hee, a former Supreme Court justice, to replace the current prime minister, who has offered to quit over the ferry sinking, presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook said in a statement. Park’s nomination requires approval by the legislature.

Newly-nominated South Korean Prime Minister Ahn Dai-hee, center, arrives for a news conference at the Central Government Complex in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, May 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Yonhap, Hwang Kwang-mo)

Park’s government has faced rising public anger over the April 16 sinking, which left more than 300 people dead or missing. Most of the victims were students from a high school near Seoul. About five weeks after the disaster, 288 bodies have been retrieved and 16 others are missing.

Park has said she will push to disband the coast guard, restructure some government offices and establish two new state agencies in efforts to restore public confidence and better cope with future disasters.

Her government reshuffling plans need endorsement from the 288-member single-chamber National Assembly, where her ruling conservative party has a majority status with 149 seats. Opposition lawmakers’ consent is seen as crucial, so the majority party doesn’t have to railroad legislation, which could deepen public indignation.

Min said Park would also soon name her new national security director and spy chief.

The national security director, Kim Jang-Soo, was under fire for reported remarks seen as an attempt to avoid responsibility for the ferry sinking.

Spy chief Nam Jae-joon has faced separate political problems over allegations that his agents fabricated evidence to force pro-Pyongyang espionage charges on an ethnic Chinese man from North Korea who posed as an ethnically North Korean defector to get resettlement money and other benefits from the South Korean government.

Park will conduct a Cabinet reorganization after her nomination for the prime minister passes through the National Assembly, according to presidential officials.

South Korean executive power is largely concentrated in the president, so the April 27 resignation offer by Prime Minister Chung Hong-won was seen as largely symbolic.

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