Sat, Mar 25, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Former dissident to be S Korea's first female PM

AFP , SEOUL

A feminist and former political dissident was picked yesterday to become South Korea's first woman prime minister, officials said.

Han Myung-sook, a lawmaker from the ruling Uri Party, was nominated for the vacant post by President Roh Moo-hyun, a move hailed as a step forward for women in male-dominated South Korea.

Han, known as the "godmother" of South Korean feminism, is a two-term lawmaker who served as minister of gender equality in 2001 and environment minister in 2003.

Han, 61, cut her political teeth as a dissident fighting South Korea's military dictators in the 1970s and 1980s. She was jailed for two years for pro-democracy activities in 1979.

She was selected for the top Cabinet post over Kim Byong-joon, a former politics professor currently serving as policy planner on Roh's presidential staff.

"She has worked for more than 30 years to improve women's rights, environment protection and democracy," presidential secretariat chief Lee Byung-wan said.

"She has also accumulated experience in state administration by serving as minister of gender equality and minister of environment," Lee added.

The appointment requires approval from parliament but Han is widely regarded as a bipartisan choice as she is respected by members of the conservative opposition Grand National Party, who were irked by her predecessor's brusque and partisan style.

Suggesting that Han would adopt a more compromising attitude, Lee said that she would operate with "soft" leadership.

"The government expects the prime minister, as the country's first female prime minister, will carry out state tasks smoothly with a soft leadership," he said.

Han is married to a university professor who was also jailed in the past for pro-democracy activism. They have one son.

Women's groups have hailed Han's appointment as a momentous shift that would encourage women to strive for recognition in South Korea's male-dominated political and government circles.

"Han is the best choice as she is broad-minded and excellent in mediation. The epochal appointment will also raise the social standing of women," said Kim Hwa-joong, head of the Korean National Council of Women.

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