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May 10, 2013 11:34 am
South Korean President Park Geun-hye has fired her spokesman Yoon Chang-jung for an unspecified “unsavoury” act, amid allegations that he sexually harassed a young woman while accompanying the president on her first overseas trip to the US since taking office.
The scandal is a further setback for Ms Park, who has had a difficult time since taking office in February due to controversy over her cabinet picks. A string of allegations over corruption and wrongdoing have claimed at least six of her most senior official appointments, including her choices for prime minister and defence minister.
Mr Yoon, a former conservative columnist, was her first official appointment after being elected as the country’s first female leader and was made in spite of strong opposition from both the ruling and opposition parties.
He had come under fire from opponents for perceived sensational and biased views during his years as an ultra-right-wing columnist.
Lee Nam-ki, Ms Park’s press secretary, said Mr Yoon was dismissed because he was “personally involved in an unsavoury incident that hurt the national dignity.” However, he declined to give details.
Mr Yoon was alleged to have sexually harassed a Korean American intern at a hotel in Washington earlier this week, the state-run Yonhap News said. Mr Yoon came back to Seoul from Washington suddenly on Wednesday without accompanying the president to Los Angeles, her last stop in the six-day US trip.
“We are investigating the report of a misdemeanour sexual abuse. We cannot comment further at this time,” Gwendolyn Crump, director at the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, told Yonhap.
Mr Yoon could not be reached for comment.
The report has sparked uproar in South Korea with politicians calling for a thorough investigation into the case.
The main opposition Democratic Party urged president Park to apologise over the scandal. “Mr Yoon is the person who represents the president’s unilateral appointment style despite opposition from the public,” said Bae Jae-jung, a party spokesman. “The president should repent and apologise for the national shame that a wrong appointment has brought.”
The scandal has overshadowed Ms Park’s well-received summit with US President Barack Obama, in which they reaffirmed the two countries’ 60-year-old alliance and co-operation in dealing with North Korea.
Government officials hoped that Ms Park’s high-profile diplomacy in the US would help boost her approval ratings at home, after her shaky start due to her choices for key government posts.
During her US visit, Ms Park’s approval rating was up 6 percentage points from the week before at 56 per cent, according to Gallup Korea, although this was before the scandal broke out. Gallup Korea cited the way she handled North Korean threats as the main reason for the increased popularity.
The allegations against Mr Yoon are particularly embarrassing for the president, who has promised to improve women’s rights in the male-dominated Korean society.
She was elected partly by harnessing South Korean women’s desire for change. Korean women still hold relatively few senior positions in South Korean business and politics with only 54 per cent of working-age women employed, among the lowest for any developed country.
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