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S Korea approves first woman prime minister

Written by: Staff
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SEOUL, Apr 19 (Reuters) South Korea's parliament approved on Wednesday the country's first woman prime minister, former activist Han Myeong-sook who was once jailed for pro-democracy protests.

Analysts said they expect Han to use her position as a political moderate to patch up a stormy relationship between the government and opposition parties ahead of local elections in late May.

In vote of 182 to 77, the unicameral parliament approved Han, who was first elected to parliament in 2000 and has since served as the environment minister and gender equality minister.

Han, 61, replaces veteran legislator Lee Hae-chan, who was considered one of the most powerful prime ministers in the country's history.

Lee quit last month after criticism for playing golf while a railway strike caused transport chaos.

South Korean prime ministers have been largely figureheads under strong presidents, although President Roh Moo-hyun gave Lee sweeping power on domestic policy.

It was not clear whether Han would command similar authority.

In parliamentary hearings prior to the vote, Han said the government would urge communist North Korea to be more forthcoming on the question of South Korean abductees in the North, but stressed it was important to let the North open up before reforms can take hold there.

REUTERS SRS DS1241

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