South Korea's Roh names woman as prime minister

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SEOUL, Mar 24 (Reuters) South Korea was set for its first woman prime minister today after President Roh Moo-hyun named a lawmaker and former jailed democracy activist to succeed a veteran legislator who quit over a golfing gaffe.

If approved by parliament, Han Myeong-sook is expected to use her moderate image to patch up a stormy relationship between the government and opposition parties ahead of local elections.

''President Roh expects the nominee, Han, will carry out major policy goals stably and progressively through her soft leadership and a forceful administrative drive,'' the Blue House said in a statement.

Han, 61, would replace powerful veteran legislator Lee Hae-chan, a five-term member of the unicameral National Assembly who quit over criticism for playing golf with businessmen on a public holiday while a railway strike caused transport chaos.

Han's image as a moderate and a relative absence of expected disapproval from opposition parties played highly in Roh's decision to nominate her, a Blue House official said.

She pledged to work with the opposition.

''I will try to make our confrontational political culture to become harmonious and warm, and one where persuasion works,'' she told reporters. ''We can bring forth dialogue and communication.'' Lee's two years in office were marked by bitter political clashes with the opposition, which called him arrogant.

South Korean prime ministers are usually figureheads under strong presidents, although Roh gave Lee sweeping power on domestic policy.

It was not clear whether Han would command similar authority.

The main opposition Grand National Party rated highly Han's work in civil society and in parliament, but said she must now give up her membership in the ruling Uri Party to ensure her and the government's neutrality in the upcoming local elections.

Han did not immediately comment on whether she would leave the party, but said she did not believe it was necessary to oversee a fair and free election.

Voters will pick governors, mayors and county officers throughout the country in the May 31 elections.

Born in Pyongyang in 1944 before the Korean War, Han spent much of her career in women's and environmental movements and served a prison term between 1979 and 1981 for pushing for democracy under the authoritarian rule of Chun Doo-hwan.

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